February 1, 2014: Strategy Page
The Philippines is buying another 21 refurbished UH-1 (“Huey”) helicopters, for $1.34 million each. Most of the existing Filipino helicopters are refurbished American UH-1s. The Philippines has received over 150 UH-1s since 1969 and is frequently seeking more. Many of these UH-1s have been lost to accidents and hostile fire or have just worn out. About 45 are still in service. Only about half of these are operational. The Filipinos have been pleased with the performance of these aircraft.
The UH-1s are expensive to operate, costing over a thousand dollars per hour in the air. While the Philippines pays its crews and maintenance people less, fuel and spare parts cost the same as they do in the United States. There, the U.S. Army retired all its UH-1s during the first decade of the 21st century and gave many away. While the army has phased out this Vietnam era design completely, many police, fire, and other governmental organizations were glad to get their hands on these retired helicopters. Even with the refurb cost, of about $1-2 million each, the UH-1s are still effective and a bargain at the price (free from the government, plus refurb expense).
Over 16,000 UH-1s (and variants like the gunship and Bell 204 civilian model) were manufactured between 1956 and 1991. Despite over 5,000 being destroyed in Vietnam, several thousand are still in use. Many firms specialize in refurbishing and maintaining them. For the recent Philippines sale an American and Canadian firm supplied the UH-1s and refurbishment services. A refurbished UH-1 is good for about ten years of service.
The Philippines has used its UH-1s to fight Communist and Islamic rebels, as well as for disaster relief. The Philippines would like to shift to a fleet of new helicopters and that may happen. But new helicopters cost 5-10 times as much as refurbs.
The latest refurb version is the UH-1H and is also called the "Huey II" by the manufacturer. It’s a 4.7 ton aircraft, with a max range of 469 kilometers, max endurance of 2.8 hours, and the ability to carry over two tons of cargo. The UH-1 design is half a century old and is considered the first "modern" (gas-turbine engine) helicopter design. The basic UH-1 is a 4.3 ton aircraft with a max speed of 217 kilometers an hour and range of 500 kilometers. Max sortie length is 2.5 hours. One can carry 14 troops, six stretchers or 1.7 tons of cargo.