Farewell Huey! The Italian Army Begins To Slowly Retire The AB-205 After More Than 50 Years Of Service

One of the UH-205A helicopters of the 5th Army Aviation Regiment of the Italian Army arriving at Viterbo airfield after leaving their base in Casarsa della Delizia for the last time. (Image credit: The Aviationist/Giovanni Maduli)

The 5th Army Aviation Regiment is the first unit to phase out its AB-205 Huey helicopters after completing the transition to the NH-90.

The 5th Army Aviation Regiment of the Italian Army (5° Reggimento Aviazione dell’Esercito) handed off its AB-205 Huey helicopters on Nov. 17, 2020, after completing the transition to the NH-90. The AB-205, officially designated as UH-205A Combat Support Helicopter (ESC-3), is the Italian license-built version of the Bell 205/UH-1D Huey that has been in service since 1966, assigned to the 27th Group “Mercurio”.

The 5th Army Aviation Regiment “Rigel”, named after the homonymous star of the Orion constellation (all Italian Army Aviation units are traditionally named after stars and constellations), is one of the two Aviation Regiments of the Airmobile Brigade “Friuli”, the other being the 7th Army Aviation Regiment “Vega”.

The unit celebrated the event with a last flight of three UH-205As from Casarsa della Delizia airfield, escorted by an AH-129D Mangusta attack helicopter, and visited Rivolto AB, Campoformido, Maniago, Aviano AB and La Comina, the airfields where the Huey operated in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, before heading to Viterbo, home of the Army Aviation Training Centre. The AB-205 flew in north-eastern Italy for 51 years, being delivered for the first time in Casarsa in 1969.

Soon after its delivery to Casarsa, the AB-205 Huey became instrumental to disaster relief operations after the Friuli earthquake in 1976, flying more than 1000 rescue and transport missions in support of the population. Since 1982 the helicopter took part in many operations abroad, namely in Lebanon, Namibia, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. The operations over the former Yugoslavia are a sad chapter in the history of the unit, as in 1992 an AB-205 was shot down by Yugoslav MiG-21s during an European Community Monitor Mission, killing the four Italian members of the crew and a French officer.

The three UH-205A helicopters of the 5th Army Aviation Regiment of the Italian Army departing from their base in Casarsa della Delizia for the last time. (Photo: Italian Army)

The Huey was upgraded in 2010 for a better protection while operating in Afghanistan, becoming UH-205A Mission Equipment Package (MEP). Among the systems that were added during the upgrade a Doppler Global Navigation System (DGPS), new V/UHF radios, ballistic protection in the floor of the helicopter and armoured seats, an InfraRed signature suppressor for the engine exhaust, an InfraRed Counter Measure system (IRCM), radar, laser and missile warning systems and chaff/flare dispensers.

The UH-105A will now continue to serve in other units across the country until its retirement, which has not been set yet. The Airmobile Brigade has fully transitioned to the UH-90A, but it should be joined soon by the new UH-169B, as the AW169 Light Utility Helicopter has been officially designated. As we wrote earlier this year here at The Aviationist, the UH-169B will replace the A-109, AB-205, AB-206, AB-212 and AB-412 which currently perform in the Combat Support role for the Italian Army. A first version of the helicopter is being delivered to train the aircrews while an advanced multirole version completes the development.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.