Colombian Air Force Upgrades Its UH-1H Helicopters

Colombian Air Force Upgrades Its UH-1H Helicopters

By Yolima Dussán/Diálogo
April 07, 2017

On the helicopter pad at the Air Maintenance Command of the Colombian Air Force (CAMAN and FAC, respectively, per their Spanish acronyms), an upgraded version of the Huey II UH-H1 helicopter is ready to fly. Nine months earlier, when it arrived at CAMAN in Cundinamarca, the UH-1H was completely disassembled. The structural components were removed, as well as the power plant and electrical systems, to then proceed with rigorous visual inspections of the structure, which is essential for guaranteeing its performance. After that, there were 355 exception reports that had to be corrected. From having flown so much over Colombian terrain, some of the parts to the UH-1H were already worn out. Effective leveraging of resources It took 17,195 man hours to complete all of the conversion tasks, avionics upgrading and integration, and test flights to certify the flight readiness of the helicopter. It got a new motor, transmission, and powertrain installed to enhance the cabin. Analog instruments were replaced with digital screens that optimize the data the crew needs to conduct their air operations. An extreme overhaul, to be sure. More than 20 men and all of the technical groups at CAMAN worked on upgrading this version of the Huey II rotary-wing aircraft – the same one that was delivered to the crews of the 4th Air Combat Command, located at Melgar in Tolima. It will remain in the service of Colombians, carrying out rescue missions, providing support during natural disasters, fighting fires with its Bamby Bucket system, and flying air medevac and troop transport missions, among others. Leadership in converting and upgrading “The Air Force has 10 helicopters in this category,” Brigadier General
Luis Eduardo Contreras Meléndez, CAMAN’s Director, told Diálogo. “We are
the only country in Latin America that does this kind of upgrade, a procedure
that is made possible thanks to our relationship with the helicopter
manufacturer, U.S. company Bell, which certifies the process.” After four years at the helm of CAMAN, Brig. Gen. Contreras presided
over the delivery ceremony on March 10th. He has also been
responsible for the conversion and upgrading of another four Huey II
helicopters. His goal is to overhaul the entire 10-aircraft fleet of UH-1Hs. They
are already halfway there. Originally, the FAC had to wait a long time and invest too many
resources in upgrading its aircraft. They were dependent on the factory’s
timeline. To solve the problem, the Air Force decided to train its personnel to
perform the job locally. Now that the goal has been achieved, they are ready to
share their experience with the rest of the region. They are waiting for the
formalization of accords with other countries to make that knowledge transfer. New avionics: Colombian innovation “The natural evolution of a UH-1H helicopter is to convert it into a Huey II. The central focus of the process is to replace the motor,” Colonel Abelardo Moreno, director of CAMAN’s Technical Group 93, told Diálogo. “We swap out the original motor, a T53L3B, with a T53703. Then, at that higher power level, you have to make structural changes and changes to the powertrain, that is, the entire transmission, together with the entire mechanical system, down to the tail rotor. Everything has to be new,” he said. Col. Moreno knows every last inch of the helicopter and the entire history that precedes it. That is why he is absolutely certain that installing a new avionics system in Colombia is the main advantage to this process of aircraft conversion and upgrade. “The old electronics had instrumentation based on analog signals that lit up through little dials. Now we are changing everything over to a digital system in which the pilot has just a small screen on which he can do a page-by-page view of the information he wants to see on the status of the motor, the temperature, flight navigation, etc. This is a great contribution that our nation is making to this process, which involves highly complex calibration,” he added. For upcoming conversions, CAMAN expects to receive authorization from the avionics manufacturer to create a virtual reality program that will allow the pilot to have a three-dimensional view of the terrain and how to operate in critical conditions of zero visibility through geo-positioning. A 20-year extended life cycle The Huey II with tail number 4423 and four others like it are already
flying over Colombian territory in daily missions. Now they are doing so with
greater power, more cargo capacity, new electronics, and a new harness –
equipment that makes them the most reliable and best-performing aircraft. From
now on, their life cycle will range from 15 to 20 years. The UH-1H is a
medium-sized, utilitarian, military helicopter developed by Bell, which manufactures
it for the U.S. military. It was first used for military purposes in 1959 and
was put into production in 1962 under the UH-1 designator and the moniker
Iroquois. But it is widely known as Huey. It is one of the most successful
helicopters in history. With more than 16,000 units produced in total, it is
famous for its involvement in the Vietnam War, in which the United States used
nearly 7,000 of them. After so many years in use, the aircraft has evolved. In 2011, the CAMAN
technical staff proposed to do conversions on 10 Huey II aircraft in order to
expand the existing fleet without squandering its capacities, but rather
optimize those resources to prevent the aircraft from being decommissioned and
buying new equipment to replace the old. The crew of UH-1H 4423 was excited to take receipt of the aircraft.
Their pilot, First Lieutenant Julio Muñoz Peláez, knows that a new stage has
begun. “I feel a great sense of satisfaction because this aircraft has new
technology that was developed mostly through Colombian engineering,” he
affirmed. “Professionally, it represents growth and development for each one of
us who command this aircraft. We feel safer in it. It’s quite ergonomic and has
better performance. We had to get trained on how to properly interpret the
status screens, but we are now ready to keep flying in the aircraft we were
waiting for.”
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