As the first new model introduced since Lynn Tilton’s Patriarch Partners bought MD Helicopters (MDHI) in 2005–and rescued the manufacturer from the brink of collapse–the MD 540F armed scout helicopter not only marks the continued evolution of a storied platform that traces its lineage back to the Hughes 500D. It also symbolizes renewed hope for the company’s future.
The MD 540F’s heritage is immediately apparent in its swept bubble nose, rakish landing skids and single turbine exhaust mounted under the high-mounted tail boom. MDHI (Booth No. N4121) is quick to note that historical connection, but the 540F is also a significantly different aircraft than even its immediate predecessor, the MD 530F. For starters, the MD 540F replaces the older model’s Allison 250-C30 turboshaft with the new Rolls-Royce M250-C47E, offering dual-channel Fadec and bumping available rated takeoff power to 700 shp.
The up-rated engine is attached to a new six-blade, articulating composite main rotor with blades provided by Van Horn Aviation. That package improves the aircraft’s performance in hot/high conditions, with the MD 540F expected to hover at 6,000 feet at 95 degrees F with a full avionics and weapons package, and carries a projected service ceiling of 20,000 feet with a maximum external gross weight of 4,100 pounds. Landing skids from the MD 600N help to accommodate the heavier payloads, while a sophisticated helmet display and tracking system provides enhanced sighting and situational awareness to the flight crew.
The company targets FAA certification for a commercial MD 540F variant in late 2015 to early 2016, though the helicopter’s true mission is expected to be in a military capacity. Four external stations are available to mount a variety of weapons systems including a .50-caliber cannon (successfully test-fired on the aircraft last month) as well as 70-mm Hydra rockets, a 7.62-mm minigun, laser-guided rockets and Hellfire missiles.
“With the increased performance from the main rotor, coupled with the extreme agility and maneuverability of the 500 series, this aircraft could really be a game-changer for customers with larger attack helicopters that want to have the same lethality in a helicopter with a lot lower recurrent and operating costs,” Matt Swisher, director of military business development for MDHI, told AIN.
While the company projects sales opportunities to commercial operators and foreign militaries, the MD 540F’s primary purpose is to be a strong competitor in the contest to replace the Army’s aging fleet of OH-58D Kiowa scout helicopters, if that competition ever happens, that is. Aside from a voluntary demonstration of the MD 540F’s capabilities to the U.S. Army late last year, no formal competition for the armed aerial scout contract has been announced; indeed, any prospects for such a competition may have weakened significantly with recent sequestration against the Pentagon’s budget.
Tilton, now president and CEO of MDHI, refers to the MD 540F as “a child born” and “the pride of the company…to some extent, everyone’s wish list” for what operators need in a light attack helicopter. For the moment, MDHI must continue waiting to see if the U.S. Army agrees.