NEWS | MX Fuerza Aerea Mexicana     Mexican Air Force

Mexico Returns Huey Helicopters

Mexico returned Hueys that were delivered in 1996 and 1997 since gearbox and other problems prompted restrictions on their use

Helis, October 05, 1999 - Mexico has returned 73 Vietnam-era military helicopters that the United States donated three years ago.

Mexican officials say they have been unable to make full use of the UH-1Hs, nicknamed Hueys, since gearbox and other problems prompted restrictions on their use last year. U.S. analysts have said the fleet costs $25 million a year to maintain.

Lt. Col. Bill Darley, Pentagon spokesman, said the last helicopter was returned about two weeks ago and the Mexican government had rejected offers to refurbish and return 20 of them. All but one were still in working order, he said.

The U.S. military last year stopped using the last of its Hueys. They have been replaced by the far more powerful and sophisticated Black Hawks.

Critics of Mexico's government have alleged that Mexico has sometimes used the Hueys to chase rebels and harass Indians in southern Mexico rather than to combat illegal drugs. The Mexican government denied such misuse.

``It's very expensive to maintain a helicopter fleet, and they have very limited use in the higher mountains'' where most drug crops are grown, Darley said in an interview Tuesday. He said, however, that the fleet had logged 8,300 flight hours on 1,800 counter-drug missions, locating 28,875 illegal drug plots and 539 drug landing strips.

The Mexico City newspaper La Journada reported the return of the helicopters Tuesday, saying they were more of a problem than a solution in the drug war. The newspaper quoted Mexican officials as saying the Hueys were too old to be useful. It cited local U.S. officials as saying some of the aircraft were flown on longer missions than recommended and were not properly maintained.

The Hueys were delivered in 1996 and 1997 in good working order with some spare parts but they had to be maintained by the Mexican military, Darley said. At the time, the U.S. government valued the helicopters and two C-26 planes, which Mexico will keep, at $76 million.

A July report by the Government Accounting Office - an investigative branch of Congress- criticized U.S. material assistance to Mexico in the anti-drug effort, saying the helicopters lacked spare parts and were not being used fully.

U.S. Embassy officials in Mexico City told GAO the helicopter program has a ``high potential for complete mission failure'' because of the high costs of keeping the fleet operational.

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