Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, has launched its first active duty flight training unit since the end of World War II as it prepares for the arrival of the new MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopter later this year.
The unit, Detachment 3 of the New Mexico-based 58th Operations Group, activated Wednesday to help Maxwell’s 908th Airlift Wing train the Grey Wolf pilots who will eventually staff operational helicopter units. The detachment will also manage educational materials for the helicopter on behalf of Air Education and Training Command, the Air Force said.
Maxwell and the 908th Airlift Wing, a reserve unit, are slated to become the Air Force’s main training location for the Grey Wolf as it replaces the Vietnam War-era fleet of UH-1N Huey helicopters. The Grey Wolf will be used to patrol the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile fields as well as for evacuating government officials during emergencies.
The Air Force’s newest helicopter is also replacing the wing’s eight C-130 Hercules cargo planes, which it flew for 40 years. The wing divested its last Hercules nearly two years ago, 908th AW spokesman Brad Clark told Air Force Times. It expects to receive between six and 12 Grey Wolf helicopters.
“Today, after 60 years of remarkable service, we are taking a significant stride towards the eventual retirement of the Huey fleet, and welcoming its replacement,” Col. Derek Price, commander of the 58th Operations Group at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, said during Wednesday’s activation ceremony at Maxwell.
“Since the inception of the MH-139A Grey Wolf in 2018, it has been a long road of research, development, testing, coordinating with international agencies, battling delays, overcoming logistical challenges and finding a new home for the [formal training unit] … that will shape professional rotary-wing aviators for many decades to come,” Price said.
Boeing has said it expects to begin delivering the Grey Wolf to the Air Force this year. The service could buy up to 80 of the aircraft.
Clark said he expects the training unit to become fully operational by fiscal year 2025. The Maxwell wing will be redubbed the 908th Flying Training Wing, though it’s unclear when the change will take place.
Price acknowledged Maxwell’s long history in training aviators. Wilbur and Orville Wright had their first civilian flight school at the site, and in the 1930s, the base hosted the Army Air Corps Tactical School. Maxwell is also home to Air University, which offers a range of educational programs from pre-commissioning classes for incoming officers to collegiate-level courses for enlisted airmen and officers.
Detachment 3 will be led by Lt. Col. Derek Cumbie, a senior pilot with more than 2,000 flying hours and 17 years of service. Before taking command, Cumbie served as an operations director in the effort to bring Grey Wolf training to the 908th Airlift Wing, as well as a liaison to AETC.
“Active duty members [and] Air Force Reserve members will work, train and fly side-by-side,” Cumbie said. “We hope to make our total-force integration an example of success for others to follow. … The MH-139 FTU is in good hands here.”