Bell Helicopter made the first flight of its OH-58 Block II demonstrator at its Xworx research and development facility in Fort Worth on April 14.
Meanwhile, other contractors are lining up proposals for the U.S. Army’s next generation Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) requirement. The Army is conducting an analysis of alternatives to address capability gaps with the current OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, and is expected to issue direction on the AAS requirement in June.
Among other contractors eyeing the AAS requirement are EADS North America and Lockheed Martin with the AAS-72X, a derivative of the American Eurocopter EC145 civil twin used as the basis for the Army’s UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopter; AgustaWestland with the A119; and Sikorsky Aircraft, developing two prototypes of the coaxial-rotor X2 Raider. AVX Aircraft Co., a Forth Worth company formed by ex-Bell engineers, is proposing a substantial redesign of the OH-58D to incorporate coaxial main rotors and two ducted fans in place of a tail rotor.
Contractors are self-funding development of their proposed airframes in anticipation of the Army requirement. The EADS North America team is building three technology demonstrator aircraft (TDA), one of which flew at the Army Aviation Association of America conference in April in Nashville, Tenn. The TDA 1 aircraft is fitted with a chin-mounted turret with FLIR, television and targeting capability, and two multipurpose weapons pylons accommodating 50-caliber M3P machine gun, rockets and guided munitions.
Bell says the OH-58 Block II demonstrator “takes an OH-58 Kiowa Warrior and makes it a fast-fielding, low-risk and lowest-cost solution” to the Army’s expected “high-hot” operational requirement of 6,000-foot, 95-degree performance. That performance can be attained with propulsion and drive-train upgrades to the existing platform, the company says.
The Block II aircraft builds on the OH-58F-model cockpit and sensor upgrade program (CASUP) by adding a new Honeywell HTS900 engine, transmission and rotor system. The CASUP program replaces the OH-58D’s mast-mounted sensor with a nose-mounted sensor, updates the cockpit with color, multifunction displays, and incorporates full authority digital engine control and common missile warning system. As with the EADS candidate helicopter, the OH-58 Block II aircraft can be fitted with M3P machine gun, 2.75-inch rockets and Hellfire missiles.
The OH-58D has logged more than 750,000 fleet combat hours since it entered service in 1985, and maintains the highest readiness rate of Army helicopters in Afghanistan, according to Bell.