More than six decades after Bell introduced the world to the very first version of its famous UH-1 Huey helicopter, variants and derivatives of this iconic design continue to serve governments and fly commercially around the world. But not all of these subsequent helicopters have been as successful or become as well-known as their progenitor. Case in point, the Bell 214ST, with its stretched, bulged fuselage, which makes it look something like the offspring of a UH-60 Blackhawk.
Bell developed specifically for the Iranian military, but which never entered service in that country and has since become popular with contractors that often work for the U.S. military.
The Bell 214ST first flew on July 21, 1979, at the company’ s Dallas-Fort Worth facility. Two years earlier, the company had flown an experimental helicopter derived from the earlier Bell 214, which showed much more of its Huey lineage. As time went on, the design not only increased in length by 30 inches compared to the previous model, but saw significant changes to the central fuselage and nose. It also gained an entirely recontoured upper exhaust and tail.
Two General Electric CT72 turboshafts, each one generating 1,625 shaft horsepower, powered the 214ST. The CT7 series, also known as the T700 series, is still extremely popular today and variants are found on a wide array of commercial and military helicopters, including Bell’s own UH1Y Huey, AH1Z The engines made the 214ST significantly more powerful than the existing twin-engine UH1N, variant, and its commercial cousin the Bell 212, which used the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 Twin-Pac.
a turboshaft that consists of two PT6s linked together to generate a combined 1,250 shaft horsepower. The 214ST also had multiple then-state-of-the-art automated flight systems to improve handling.
“Basically, the 214ST is the 214 heavy lifter with a stretched cabin, two GE CT7-2 engines replacing the single Lycoming LC4B, a strengthened transmission passing rather more horsepower, new plastic [fiberglass] rotor blades and Noda-Matic suspension,” Mark Lambert wrote in an article back in 1979 ahead of the first flight. “The result is a new twin with exceptional hot-and-high capability and good single-engined performance.”
More than 3,000 pounds heavier than the UH-1N, the 214ST had a maximum takeoff weight nearly 5,000 pounds greater than its smaller twin-engine cousin and a faster cruising speed of 140 knots. The stretched cabin could accommodate 20 individuals in greater comfort than the maximum of 15 people who could ride in the rear of a Twin Huey. The new helicopter was powerful enough to hover with a total weight of 12,400 pounds at sea level while running on just one engine. It also had a one-hour run dry transmission and elastomeric rotorhead bearings for improved reliability and safety.
With its significantly improved performance and capabilities well suited to deserts and mountainous terrain, the 214 had grabbed the eye of the Shah of Iran. He subsequently signed an order for nearly 300 214A models for the Imperial Iranian Army, with production starting in 1972. The Imperial Iranian Air Force received a smaller number of 214Cs, which featured a rescue hoist and other features for use in the search and rescue mission. A small number of 214s served in the militaries of Ecuador, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, as well.
The Shah and Bell had also agreed to eventually establish domestic Iranian production of the Bell 214A and C in the city of Isfahan. This agreement later expanded to include plans to build the 214ST in Iran, as well.
But while Iran did receive hundreds of 214A/Cs, it never got a single 214ST and the Iranian factory never came to be. Protests beginning in 1978 eventually evolved into an open revolt in 1979, with the Shah’s government collapsing entirely in February of that year. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a prominent Shia Islamic cleric, subsequently led a movement that took control and established the new Islamic Republic of Iran.
Blocked from completing its helicopter deal with Iran due to political reasons , but having already completed the bulk of the work on the 214ST with financial help from the Shah’s government, Bell finished development of the helicopter and marketed it alongside the 214B BigLifter, the commercial version of Iran’s 214A.
Available with skids or fixed wheels, Bell pitched the 214ST, also first as the Stretched Twin and then as the Super Transporter, in various civilian roles. These included executive transport, forest fire fighting, and supporting offshore oil rigs, logging operations, and other remote commercial enterprises. 214STs, along with 214Bs, continue to perform these types of duties to this day, though in relatively small numbers compared to other Huey variants derivatives.
Bell did continue to offer the 214ST as a military transport, as well. It has seen very limited military service in countries such as Brunei, Peru, Thailand, and Venezuela over the years.
In one of life’s little quirks, the largest military operator of the 214ST turned out to be Iraq, which took delivery of nearly 50 of the helicopters during the 1980s and flying them during its brutal war with Iran. The U.S. military would capture one of these during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Various firms tied to infamous private military company Blackwater, including Presidential Airways and EP Aviation also flew the 214ST under contract to the U.S. military in Afghanistan, among other locales. AAR Airlift Group subsequently purchased Presidential Airways and EP Aviation, acquiring their fleets in the process.
All told, despite its limited production run, which ran from 1981 until 1993, during which Bell built some 96 examples, the 214ST’s impressive capabilities have kept the helicopters in very active service in many parts of the world, including continued involvement in military operations.
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