The Bell model 204 UH-1 helicopter first flew in 1956. It had a two bladed rotor system and was originally powered by a single Lycoming T53engine with 700 – 780 hp. It was a real work horse and was extensively used in Vietnam by the US forces and nicknamed “huey”. Many versions were developed with stretched fuselages, more powerful single T53engines (up to 1400 hp), even twin engines and various systems. Today the latest version being built is the UH-1Z for the United States Marine Corps.
Over 17,000 helicopters of this UH-1 family have been manufactured today. Not only by Bell as it was also license-built in Italy by Agusta (Agusta-Bell AB-204) and in Japan by Fuji Heavy Industries (Fuji-Bell204B-2).
Delivery to the Royal Netherlands Navy (MLD)
In 1961 seven Agusta-Bell AB-204B helicopters were bought to form a second helicopter squadron at Valkenburg NAS with detachments at Hato and Biak. The helicopters were delivered by Agusta who built the type in license. Compared to the original machine they differed in having an Italian Gnome engine.
These helicopters resaved the designation (I) UH-1 during their service with the Dutch Naval Air service (Marine Luchtvaart Dienst) although they were Augusta build AB-104B’s. The Dutch Naval Air service has a history of using a different type designation for its aircraft.
The first helicopter was delivered to Valkenburg NAS in June 1962 and the last in May 1963. A further Agusta-Bell AB-204B was acquired in 1969as a replacement for the crashed Agusta AB 204’s 223 and 224, resaving the serial 228, originally a civil aircraft (I-MUNI).
The Dutch Naval Air service used the nine Agusta-Bell AB-204B from 1962until 1978 within 7 squadron which had just reformed at Valkenburg NAS.
Some of the delivered Agusta-Bell AB-204B where on transport for use in the then Dutch New-Guinea at the moment that the governance was transferred to the United Nations, with the helicopters no longer needed in New-Guinea they were returned to the Netherlands to be stationed on Valkenburg NAS.
The Agusta-Bell AB-204B was mainly used for transport services and occasionally for SAR-tasks. The undercarriage could be replaced with a floatation gear, but this configuration was rarely used. Two of the helicopters were in use within 1 squadron based at Hato until its disbandment in 1974, as a detachment of squadron.
The phase-out of the Agusta-Bell AB-204B began in late September 1977, when first helicopters were delivered to Valkenburg for storage, as its replacement the Westland Lynx entered service with the Dutch Naval Air service in 1977.
Squadrons equipped with the Agusta-BellAB-204B
1 Squadron MLD was formed from the Gevechtsvliegopleiding (GVO) on 22March 1949, taking over that unit’s Fairey Firefly F.1 aircraft at Valkenburg NAS. On 25 January 1952, the squadron arrived at Hato, Dutch Antilles the aircraft carrier Karel Doorman, taking up responsibility for the air defence of the islands.
Augmented by a small number of Fairey Firefly T.2 trainers, the F.1swere joined by a flight of Hawker Sea Furies in 1951, and re-equipped with Fairey Firefly FR.4 and FR.5 aircraft in 1955, this giving way tithe Grumman TBM Avenger in 1957.
Two Harvard trainers were added to strength during 1959 and in December1960 the first of seventeen replacements Grumman CS-2A Trackers arrivedafter overhaul in Canada.
Marked with the fin code ‘H’, as were their predecessors, the Grumman Trackers continued the principal task of operational training, plus secondary duties of ground support, anti-submarine and SAR until late1969, when they were returned to Holland for scrapping, and replaced by eleven Grumman S-2N Trackers. During this period, the squadron additionally operated two Agusta-Bell AB-204B helicopters on loan from 7Squadron.
Eventually, 1 Squadron disbanded on 1 August 1974, changing its name to ‘Detachment MLD’, and shortly afterwards its Grumman S-2N Trackers were scrapped or returned to the US Navy and replaced by the ‘Detachment’ of Lockheed Neptune’s
On 2 December 1949, the Oostelijk Verkennings en Transport Squadron (OVTS) at Morokrembagan initiated the transfer of six Catalina’s to New Guinea, where they founded 7 Squadron at Biak on the 23rd of the month. The Catalina’s were employed for maritime patrol until 1 February 1951, when7 Squadron disbanded and returned its aircraft to the parent unit, which by that time had been redesignated 321 Squadron and had also moved to Biak.
Re-equipped with Fairley Firefly FR.4 and FR.5s, the squadron was reborn, again at Biak, on 4 July 1955, taking responsibility for naval reconnaissance and target towing in the area until the autumn of 1961, when the final fourteen Fairley Fireflies were abandoned. 7 Squadron was disbanded on 15 January 1962, by which time the first Lockheed Neptune’s of 321 Squadron had arrived on the island to take over from the previously based Mariners and Fireflies.
On 15 October 1962, 7 Squadron became the second MLD helicopter unit, when it formed with the first four of eight Italian-built Agusta-BellAB-204B on order at Valkenburg. Detached flights of two helicopters where planned Biak and Hato, and the squadron increased strength by absorbing the larger SH-34Js of 8 Squadron late 1968, prior to the last of these being withdrawn from SAR service in 1972.
In late 1973 the unit moved to de Kooij, alongside 860 squadron. Phase-out of the Agusta-Bell AB-204B began in late September 1977, when first helicopters were delivered to Valkenburg for storage. At the same time conversion to the Westland UH-14A Lynx started in 1977 later augmented and then replaced by the Westland SH-14 Lynx variant. There it was absorbed in MARHELI and is operated the Westland SH-14D Lynx. At the moment 7 Squadron provides crew training in NHI NH90 and also performs tests and evaluations for the helicopter and its systems from within MARHELI.
End of the line
In March 1978 all the Agusta-Bell AB-204B’s were withdrawn from service and sold to Sky Controls Inc., California. The aircraft were never used in the US, because of the Italian engines they were equipped with. After several years they ended up in Sweden, where some of them were given to a Swedish museum and others where used for instructional purposes.
At the end of the nineties Agusta-Bell AB-204B 220 and 225 where returned to the Netherlands, the helicopters still had the original Dutch paint scheme applied. After being overhauled 225 went on display at the Militaire Luchtvaart Museum at Soesterberg and 220 went on display as gate guard at Naval Air Station ‘De Kooy”.
A further two Agusta-Bell AB-204B 221 and 227 where acquired in 2006 by Classic Aircraft Foundation and transported to the Netherlands with the aim to restore 227 to flying condition