Boeing said that it recently flew its AH-6i light attack/reconnaissance helicopter for the first time in production configuration. Flight status moves the program “another step closer to full-scale production,” the manufacturer said on May 1.
Company pilots flew the helicopter “for less than 20 minutes at low speeds in forward, rearward and sideward flight at low elevations” during the flight-test in Mesa, Ariz. Future tests will expand the flight envelope over the next several months, according to the announcement.
The single-turbine AH-6i is based on the venerable Hughes OH-6A Cayuse, and is an “advanced variant” of the AH-6M operated by U.S. Army Special Operations Forces, according to Boeing. The AH-6i was contained in a huge arms deal the U.S. and Saudi Arabian governments negotiated in 2010 that includes Boeing F-15SA fighters and AH-64D/E Apache attack helicopters, Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters and MD Helicopters MD530F light helicopters.
Boeing’s press release did not specify customers for the production helicopter, and the manufacturer did not immediately have available information regarding deliveries to Saudi Arabia. In early 2012, Boeing said that it expected the Saudi government to sign a letter of offer and acceptance for the AH-6is to equip the Saudi Arabia National Guard (SANG), which would be the launch customer. A U.S. Army Contracting Command solicitation for maintenance support in March last year stated that the SANG helicopter fleet will consist of 12 AH-64Es, 24 AH-6is and 24 UH-60Ms, stationed at Khashm Al An Airfield, Saudi Arabia.
Boeing demonstrated the AH-6i for the U.S. Army in 2012 as one of the helicopter manufacturers vying for the service’s armed aerial scout requirement to replace the aging OH-58D Kiowa Warrior for manned reconaissance. The budget-constrained Army has since shelved the armed aerial scout; instead it plans to use Apaches in manned-unmanned teaming operations with UAVs to provide armed reconnaissance.