ST. LOUISBoeing [BA] expects this summer to receive required Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) supplemental type certification (STC) for the MH-139 Grey Wolf helicopter, but such FAA certification has taken longer than company officials expected.

Commercial aircraft converted to military versions need FAA-approved supplemental type certificates (STCs) for military-specific equipment. For the MH-139, Boeing installs unique military equipment on the Leonardo-supplied AW139 commercial helicopter.

“The [FAA] certification process [for the MH-139] has taken longer than we expected without a doubt,” Mark Cherry, vice president and general manager of Boeing Defense Systems’ Vertical Lift division in Philadelphia, told reporters in a virtual discussion on June 16. “The COVID situation hurt that because some of that certification and some of those iterations required folks to get eyes on aircraft, eyes on parts, and there were a lot of challenges getting people to the right place at the right time doing that in a safe manner. That was part of the delay. Part of the delay was the complexity of getting some of these unique boxes certified through the FAA proper.”

Integration of two defensive systems

on the MH-139 and FAA issuance of STCs on the MH-139 for those subsystems–the ALE-47 Airborne Countermeasures Dispenser System and the Northrop Grumman [NOC] AAR-47 Missile Warning System–has resulted in FAA certification delays for the MH-139 (Defense Daily, June 23, 2021).

In June last year, the Air Force said that the fairing that connects the ALE-47 and the AAR-47 to the MH-139 had caused airflow anomalies but that Boeing had redesigned the fairing and was testing it to validate the fix.

Florida-based Extant Aerospace has said that, since 2001, it has been the Air Force’s prime contractor for the BAE Systems-designed ALE-47. Extant Aerospace said that it buys OEM designs for older products, or licenses them from the builders, to allow OEMs to focus on new product development.

Cherry suggested on June 16 that an STC for the MH-139’s Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) may also contribute to the delay in FAA certification of the helicopter. “The version of that [IFF] box we’re looking at has never gone through an FAA certification because it’s military,” he said.

In June last year, Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, at the time the service’s top uniformed acquisition official, told a Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) panel that the MH-139 requires three STCs from the FAA. Richardson is the new head of Air Force Materiel Command.

“Supplemental Type Cert number three has already been granted,” Richardson told the SASC panel last June. “One and two are behind. The one we’re most worried about is the second one, and it has to do with a defensive system that has a nacelle around it. It’s causing some funny air disturbances, and we’re working to understand those air disturbances so that we can get the Supplemental Type Cert for that.”

Boeing is eyeing a possible low-rate initial production decision for the MH-139 next year.

The MH-139s are to replace the Air Force’s 63 Bell [TXT] UH-1N helicopters to provide security and support of the U.S. military’s intercontinental ballistic missile fields, civil search-and-rescue capabilities, airlift support and doomsday VIP transportation.

The Air Force awarded Boeing a contract worth $2.38 billion in September 2018 to include up to 84 MH-139s.