The US Government is considering a major expansion in the number of modernised Bell UH-1H Huey II helicopters supplied to Latin American countries for anti-drug missions.

Five South American nations are seeking $135 million of US assistance in fiscal year 2000 to rebuild more than 60 UH-1Hs. The helicopters are needed for police and troop transport, aerial reconnaissance and surveillance and armed escort for airborne spraying of cocoa and poppy cultivation.

Requested Huey II upgrade kits include 10 for the Brazilian police, eight for the Bolivian air force, 15 for Colombia's national police, 20 for the Mexican PGR Attorney General's office and eight for Peruvian law enforcement. This represents about half the UH-1Hs in the region, says Pat Davis, Bell South American sales manager.

Colombia also has a follow-on requirement for 15 Huey IIs, worth another $33 million. The US State Department has provided Bogota with funding for 25, of which 10 are coming from surplus US Army stocks. The first six upgraded machines were delivered in early September, with the rest to be delivered by the end of next year.

The US Army is thought to have up to 100 surplus UH-1Hs available for upgrade and export. A Huey II demonstration tour earlier this year included Argentina and Chile, where there is also interest. "We've not seen funding for countries outside Colombia yet, but the State Department has told us they intend to top up aircraft in Bolivia," says Davis.

Ozark-based US Helicopter undertakes the six-month upgrade, including fitting the Bell 212/UH-1N drive-train, tail boom, main rotor hub, wider chord blades and lift beam, uprating the Lycoming T5313 engine to -703 standard, and fitting an enhanced 960kW (1,290shp) transmission. Compared to the UH-1H, the Huey II has 28% more power, increased payload, improved hot and high performance and a 41% cut in direct operating costs.

Source: Flight International