908th embraces future, legacy of helicopter mission

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Juliana Todd
  • 908th Airlift Wing

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as having said, “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” The 908th Airlift Wing is choosing to take advantage of the present and prepare for the future.

In 2020, Maxwell Air Force Base was selected as the preferred location to host the MH-139A Grey Wolf Formal Training Unit, with the 908th tasked with the mission. Since then, members have been strategically preparing and anticipating its arrival, saying goodbye to its nearly 40-year tactical airlift mission with the C-130 Hercules.

This unique transition requires synergy between three major commands: Air Force Reserve Command, Air Force Global Strike Command, and Air Education and Training Command. It also requires wing members to have patience, perseverance and a willingness to learn.

“It’s the hardest, most complicated, multifaceted [mission change] the Air Force has ever taken on,” said Col. Craig Drescher, 908 AW commander. “Not only is it hard to go from a fixed-wing, combat-coded unit to a rotary-wing, formal training unit, but we’re talking about an airframe that hasn’t even come off the factory floor yet. We don’t have anything stood up; we’re having to create everything as we go.”

The MH-139A is the militarized version of the commercial AW139 helicopter, designed to protect intercontinental ballistic missiles and transport U.S. government officials and security forces. It has modified features that makes it superior to its UH-1N counterpart, such as increase of speed, range, ceiling, endurance, payload and survivability. Similarly, as the MH-139A is replacing the wing’s C-130H, it will also replace the Air Force’s nearly 50-year aging fleet of UH-1N Huey helicopters.

Recently, during November’s Unit Training Assembly, one MH-139A Grey Wolf from the 413th Flight Test Squadron in Duke Field, Florida, and two UH-1N Hueys from the 23rd Flying Training Squadron in Fort Rucker, Alabama, made a stop at Maxwell Air Force Base.

The primary purpose of the visit was for 908th Operations Group and 908th Maintenance Group members to get familiar with the incoming and retiring aircraft, communicate with the helicopter crew and build a closer relationship between each other. This was the first time at Maxwell AFB that members from the wing observed and interacted with their future mission and the legacy they are now inheriting.

The idea began with Lt. Col. Jay Ference, 357th Airlift Squadron commander and member of the integration team tasked with preparing the wing for the new mission. He realized that morale was starting to deteriorate for the wing’s operations and maintenance personnel, and they needed something to get excited about.

“It's been very difficult,” said Ference. “We haven’t had aircraft here for last seven months. So, this was an event to get the spark, the energy, to say, hey, this is what we're going to be doing and we're going to be getting these aircraft.”

Receiving that hands-on interaction, to see a helicopter from decades ago still performing a vital role for the Air Force today, bred confidence in many members.

“There are pilots that fly and train, and maintainers that maintain, the UH-1N airframe from 1976, a helicopter with over 8,000 flight hours on it,” said Master Sgt. Michael Joseph Cutter, an expeditor with the 908th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “If those people are maintaining and modifying that aircraft from 1976, we can step in now and maintain this aircraft that's going to be delivered and built this year.”

Understanding now what they’re getting further helps the 908th to accelerate change and embrace the new mission.