The field of companies offering armed scout helicopters to the U.S. Army and other militaries has grown with the addition of MD Helicopters, which is proposing the MD 540F, an upgrade of its MD 530F light helicopter, equipped with a weapons management system from Israel’s Elbit Systems. The offering is based on the same airframe MD Helicopters supplies to Boeing for the AH-6i, which is also a competitor for the Army’s armed aerial scout (AAS) program.
Mesa, Ariz.-based MD Helicopters, the former commercial helicopter business of McDonnell Douglas, introduced the MD 540F during the Army Aviation Association of America (AAAA) conference this week in Nashville. CEO Lynn Tilton said it is the company’s first AAAA appearance and the first new aircraft launch since her private equity firm, Patriarch Partners, acquired MD Helicopters in 2005.
MD Helicopters and Elbit teamed on the MD 540F flight display and weapons systems just three months ago, Tilton said. The aircraft flew a month later with a new six-blade rotor, and integration of Elbit’s weapons management system is under way. “Yes, it does fly. It is not a model, it is not a mockup, and we hope that certification will be done in the first quarter of 2013,” Tilton said.
The production MD 540F will feature the six-blade main rotor, compared to five blades for the 530F, upgraded Rolls-Royce 250-C30HU turboshaft with full authority digital engine control (Fadec), and heavier-duty skid landing gear to accommodate a nominal 4,000-pound max takeoff weight (900 pounds higher than the 530F’s). Elbit is providing dual multifunction displays in the cockpit and a helmet display and tracking system, enabling pilots to slew the aircraft’s targeting FLIR with laser designator. Armament could include Hydra 70-mm rockets, laser-guided rockets, Hellfire missiles, 7.62-mm minigun and 50-caliber machine gun.
MD Helicopters won a contract from the Army in March 2011 to provide six MD 530Fs initially, and potentially 48 more, to train the Afghan air force. That contract was “the inspiration for this aircraft,” Tilton said of the 540F. “We have long thought about bringing a more powerful scout helicopter to the market.”
In March 2011, MD Helicopters announced a “collaborative production agreement” with Boeing to produce the AH-6i, an export version of the highly modified AH-6M Little Bird flown by the Army’s Special Operations Command. The AH-6i (which also has a six-blade main rotor) and MD 540F are among several helicopters competing for the Army’s AAS program to replace the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. Boeing is “not in our market niche, they’re up there in the market” with the AH-64D Apache, said Carl Schopfer, MD Helicopters COO. “For us to be successful is good for them. That’s what they’ve said.”