VX-31 "Dust Devils" Receive the New AH-1Z and UH-1Y

VX-31's new AH-1Z BuNo 166759 crosses the field at El Centro, CA 10/20/07
Photo Copyright 2007 Dan Stijovich

10/22/2007 - The US Navy's Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Three One (VX-31) handles the majority of weapons testing that's conducted on various Naval aircraft platforms. As such, they typically have at least one example of each Naval/Marine aircraft that's capable of dropping or launching weapons on hand, including helicopters.

The VX-31 "Dust Devils" are based at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, along with their companion unit, the VX-9 "Vampires". VX-9 typically focuses on operational evaluation of attack, fighter, and EW aircraft, their weapons systems, and the development of tactical procedures for the fleet. The Dust Devil's job basically deals with testing the actual equipment in a technical sense, whereas the Vampires are more involved with evaluating the equipment in 'real world' scenarios, to see how the average combat pilot can use it in the fleet. Like VX-31, VX-9 also has numerous Naval aircraft types available to them.

New VX-31 AH-1Z wears side #005 and the Dust Devil tail code of 'DD' at El Centro, CA 10/20/07
Photo Copyright 2007 Dan Stijovich

Until recently, VX-9 had three known AH-1W Cobra models available in their squadron for evaluation needs. These included: #740 BuNo 163935, #741 BuNo 163936 and #742 BuNo 165358. In May of 2006, four of the first helicopters from the USMC AH-1Z and UH-1Y 'Light Attack' upgrade program left Patuxent River NAS and made their way out to the desert at China Lake. Initial testing on the two 'new' aircraft models had already been conducted at Pax. It was now time to begin Operational Evaluation under VX-9, before the two aircraft started to be delivered to combat units in the fleet. The aircraft the Vampires received were two AH-1Z models: BuNo 166478 and 166479, and two UH-1Y models: BuNo 166475 and 166476.


New VX-31 UH-1Y #411 makes an approach to El Centro, CA 10/20/07
Photo Copyright 2007 Dan Stijovich

The AH-1Z "Super Cobra" and UH-1Y "Iroquois" upgrade program is extensive. Each 'new' aircraft will be created out of existing AH-1W and UH-1N models already in the USMC fleet. The new AH-1Z upgraded model includes a state of the art "glass" cockpit, integrated helmet-mounted sighting system, upgraded engines and drive-train, 10,000-hour airframe life and a new hinge-less, bearing-less, composite four-bladed rotor system (two added blades). This more than doubles the payload capacity and increases the aircraft’s functional flight envelope by 80 percent. The AH-1Z is 84 percent identical in its requirements when compared with the new UH-1Y. This will reduce the logistical demands of the Marine Light Attack Helicopter squadrons when deployed, since the LAHS units fly both aircraft.

The basic H-1 "Huey" has been produced over 16,000 times in various variants, since 1956. The UH-1Y is the most significant upgrade ever made to the basic H-1 model. Similar to the AH-1Z, the UH-1Y upgrade includes a new four-bladed, all-composite and ballistically tolerant rotor system, upgraded engines and transmissions integrated into a digital "glass" cockpit featuring multifunction flat panels, increased payload capabilities, and crash-worthy seating for all crew and passengers. The upgrade also provides increased load carrying ability, greater range and survivability, smaller logistical footprint and easier maintenance requirements within the squadrons.

VX-31's new UH-1Y BuNo 166756 hovers over the ramp at El Centro, CA 10/20/07
Photo Copyright 2007 Dan Stijovich

As the AH-1Z / UH-1Y Light Attack upgrade program moves along, it appears that VX-31 has now been given their own versions of the two new aircraft, which will undoubtedly be utilized extensively for weapons testing well into the future. On October 20th, Dan Stijovich happen to catch two of the new upgraded helicopters that have been assigned to VX-31 fly into El Centro NAF, CA. "Coso 411 Flight" included UH-1Y #411 BuNo 166756 wearing the Dust Devil's 'DD' code, and AH-1Z #005 BuNo 166759, also wearing the Dust Devil's 'DD' code. It's unknown if these are the only examples of the new helicopters that they have received. There doesn't appear to be any special test equipment attached externally to the aircraft as of yet. Future test programs will most likely see some modifications made to the aircraft.

The USMC H-1 Light Attack Upgrade Program will eventually replace the current fleet of AH-1W and high time UH-1N aircraft by providing a total of 180 AH-1Z and 100 UH-1Y new zero-time aircraft to the fleet.

Source: Dan Stijovich
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