National Wildfire Coordinating Group

First Flight of the Huey – October 20th, 1956


This Day in History is a brief summary of a powerful learning opportunity and is not intended to second guess or be judgmental of decisions and actions. Put yourself in the following situation as if you do not know the outcome. What are the conditions? What are you thinking? What are YOU doing?


There are few firefighters that will not have the opportunity to work with or be assisted by the world’s most famous helicopter, the Huey. The quintessential helicopter, the Huey is the pick-up truck of the helicopter industry. From large crew shuttles, buckets and sling loads, to rappel and short haul, this aircraft has become an icon of versatility and power. The Huey quickly developed its nickname from its designation of HU-1. The reference became so popular that Bell began casting the name on the helicopter's anti-torque pedals. The official U.S. Army name “Iroquois” was almost never used in practice. After 1962, the designation for all models was changed to UH-1 but the nickname remained.

The Huey story traces back over 5 decades to 1955 and the adaptation of the turbine engine to helicopter flight. The Bell Huey was the first mass-produced helicopter powered by a jet turbine. The piston-drive engines used in the 1950s and early 1960s were underpowered and not useful for most military missions. Although designed as an air ambulance, it was recognized even then that the Huey might turn out to be the most useful aerial platform ever put in production.

The Huey family of aircraft have totaled more than 27 million flight hours since October 20th, 1956 when the "granddaddy" of all Hueys, the XH-40, made its first flight. Since then, more than 16,000 Huey helicopters have been produced making it the most successful military aircraft in aviation history.

The original 1956 Huey XH-40 helicopter

Discussion Points:

Airtankers are a valuable asset in the control of wildland fires, but these aircraft can pose serious threats to the safety of air and ground personnel.

Hueys are a particularly noisy helicopter with its distinctive " whomp-whomp".

  • Hearing protection is a “must have” when around helicopters for the same reason that we wear it around chainsaws. Do you have ear plugs in your pocket?

The Huey saw combat in Vietnam in 1962, first as a troop transport and medevac helicopter and later as an armed assault helicopter used to protect troop transports. Troops could now be taken into and removed from key strategic positions.

  • There is no doubt about the convenience of using a helicopter to transport crews and equipment, but knowing the inherent risks of  helicopter flight, make sure to ask yourself before every flight, is this flight necessary? Review the Aviation section (blue) of the Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461

In Vietnam, up to 900,000 wounded were medically evacuated by Huey helicopters. As a result, 98% of wounded who survived the first 24 hours lived to return home.

  • There is always the possibility on any incident that someone might need to be medivaced. What plan do you and your crew have in place for this situation?

1970, The U.S. Marines wanted a more powerful version of the Huey equipped with two engines. They were concerned about an engine failure over water because helicopters are notoriously difficult aircraft to escape from, for they immediately turn upside down after hitting the water.

  • Identify situations where the best emergency landing zone is the water. Discuss this “what if” with your crew/group.
  • Did you know that water ditching training is available? Look for A-312 on


This Day in History
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Aug 2021

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