A Bell XH-40, a prototype of the UH-1
In 1952, the U.S. Army identified a requirement for a new helicopter to serve as medical evacuation (MEDEVAC), instrument trainer, and general utility aircraft. The Army determined that current helicopters were too large, underpowered, or too complex to maintain easily. In November 1953, revised military requirements were submitted to the Department of the Army. Twenty companies submitted designs in their bid for the contract, including Bell Helicopter with the Model 204 and Kaman Aircraft with a turbine-powered version of the H-43. On 23 February 1955, the Army announced its decision, selecting Bell to build three copies of the Model 204 for evaluation with the designation XH-40.
Powered by a prototype Lycoming YT53-L-1 (LTC1B-1) engine producing 700 shp (520 kW), the XH-40 first flew on 20 October 1956 at Fort Worth, Texas, with Bell's chief test pilot, Floyd Carlson, at the controls. Two more prototypes were built in 1957, and the Army had previously ordered six YH-40 service test aircraft, even before the first prototype had flown. In March 1960, the Army awarded Bell a production contract for 100 aircraft, which was designated "HU-1A" and officially named Iroquois after the Native American nations.
The helicopter quickly developed a nickname derived from its HU-1 designation, which came to be pronounced as "Huey". The reference became so popular that Bell began casting the name on the helicopter's anti-torque pedals. The official U.S. Army name was almost never used in practice. After September 1962, the designation for all models was changed to UH-1 under a unified Department of Defense (DOD) designation system, but the nickname remained.
While glowing in praise for the helicopter's advances over piston-engined helicopters, the Army reports from the service tests of the YH-40 found it to be underpowered with the production T53-L-1A powerplant producing a maximum continuous 770 shaft horsepower (570 kilowatts).[N 1] The Army indicated the need for improved follow-on models even as the first UH-1As were being delivered. In response, Bell proposed the UH-1B, equipped with the Lycoming T53-L-5 engine producing 960 shp (720 kW) and a longer cabin that could accommodate either seven passengers or four stretchers and a medical attendant. Army testing of the UH-1B started in November 1960, with the first production aircraft delivered in March 1961.
Bell commenced development of the UH-1C in 1960 in order to correct aerodynamic deficiencies of the armed UH-1B. Bell fitted the UH-1C with a 1,100 shp (820 kW) T53-L-11 engine to provide the power needed to lift all weapons systems in use or under development. The Army eventually refitted all UH-1B aircraft with the same engine. A new rotor system was developed for the UH-1C to allow higher air speeds and reduce the incidence of retreating blade stall during diving engagements. The improved rotor resulted in better maneuverability and a slight speed increase. The increased power and a larger diameter rotor required Bell's engineers to design a new tail boom for the UH-1C. The longer tail boom incorporated a wider chord vertical fin on the tail rotor pylon and larger synchronized elevators.
Bell also introduced a dual hydraulic control system for redundancy as well as an improved inlet filter system for the dusty conditions found in southeast Asia. The UH-1C fuel capacity was increased to 242 US gallons (920 liters), and gross weight was raised to 9,500 lb (4,309 kg), giving a nominal useful load of 4,673 lb (2,120 kg). UH-1C production started in June 1966 with a total of 766 aircraft produced, including five for the Royal Australian Navy and five for Norway.
While earlier "short-body" Hueys were a success, the Army wanted a version that could carry more troops. Bell's solution was to stretch the HU-1B fuselage by 41 in (104 cm) and use the extra space to fit four seats next to the transmission, facing out. Seating capacity increased to 15, including crew. The enlarged cabin could also accommodate six stretchers and a medic, two more than the earlier models. In place of the earlier model's sliding side doors with a single window, larger doors were fitted which had two windows, plus a small hinged panel with an optional window, providing enhanced access to the cabin. The doors and hinged panels were quickly removable, allowing the Huey to be flown in a "doors off" configuration.
The Model 205 prototype flew on 16 August 1961. Seven pre-production/prototype aircraft had been delivered for testing at Edwards AFB starting in March 1961. The 205 was initially equipped with a 44-foot (13.4 m) main rotor and a Lycoming T53-L-9 engine with 1,100 shp (820 kW). The rotor was lengthened to 48 feet (14.6 m) with a chord of 21 in (53 cm). The tailboom was also lengthened, in order to accommodate the longer rotor blades. Altogether, the modifications resulted in a gross weight capacity of 9,500 lb (4,309 kg). The Army ordered production of the 205 in 1963, produced with a T53-L-11 engine for its multi-fuel capability.[N 2] The prototypes were designated as YUH-1D and the production aircraft was designated as the UH-1D.
In 1966, Bell installed the 1,400 shp (1,000 kW) Lycoming T53-L-13 engine to provide more power for the aircraft. The pitot tube was relocated from the nose to the roof of the cockpit, to prevent damage during landing. Production models in this configuration were designated as the UH-1H.
In 1962, the United States Marine Corps held a competition to choose an assault support helicopter to replace the Cessna O-1 fixed-wing aircraft and the Kaman OH-43D helicopter. The winner was the UH-1B, which was already in service with the Army. The helicopter was designated the UH-1E and modified to meet Marine requirements. The major changes included the use of all-aluminum construction for corrosion resistance,[N 3] radios compatible with Marine Corps ground frequencies, a rotor brake for shipboard use to stop the rotor quickly on shutdown and a roof-mounted rescue hoist.
The UH-1E was first flown on 7 October 1963, and deliveries commenced 21 February 1964, with 192 aircraft completed. Due to production line realities at Bell, the UH-1E was produced in two different versions, both with the same UH-1E designation. The first 34 built were essentially UH-1B airframes with the Lycoming T53-L-11 engine producing 1,100 shp (820 kW). When Bell switched production to the UH-1C, the UH-1E production benefited from the same changes. The Marine Corps later upgraded UH-1E engines to the Lycoming T53-L-13, which produced 1,400 shp (1,000 kW), after the Army introduced the UH-1M and upgraded their UH-1C helicopters to the same engine.
The United States Air Force's (USAF) competition for a helicopter to be used for support on missile bases included a specific requirement to mandate the use of the General Electric T58 turboshaft as a powerplant. The Air Force had a large inventory of these engines on hand for its fleet of HH-3 Jolly Green Giant rescue helicopters and using the same engine for both helicopters would save costs. In response, Bell proposed an upgraded version of the 204B with the T58 engine. Because the T58 output shaft is at the rear, and was thus mounted in front of the transmission on the HH-3, it had to have a separate offset gearbox (SDG or speed decreaser gearbox) at the rear, and shafting to couple to the UH-1 transmission.
The single–engine UH-1 variants were followed by the twin-engine UH-1N Twin Huey and years later the UH-1Y Venom. Bell began development of the UH-1N for Canada in 1968. It changed to the more powerful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6T twin-engine set. The U.S. also ordered the helicopter with the U.S. Air Force receiving it in 1970. Canada's military, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Navy first received the model in 1971.
In 1996, the USMC began the H-1 upgrade program by awarding a contract to Bell Helicopter for developing the improved UH-1Y and AH-1Zs variants. The UH-1Y includes a lengthened cabin, four-blade rotor, and two more powerful GE T700 engines. The UH-1Y entered service with the USMC in 2008.