Unmanned Korean MD500 Flies for the First Time

 - August 2, 2019, 12:54 PM
The KUS-VH is seen during its July 30 first flight at the Korean Air Aerospace Research Institute. (photo: Korean Air)

Korean Air (KAL) successfully conducted the first flight of its unmanned MD500 light helicopter, known as the KUS-VH, on July 30. The flight lasted for around 30 minutes at the Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s aviation center, which is located in Goheung, South Jeolla Province, South Korea. Part of the inaugural flight test also saw the execution of a remote engine start, and tethered hover flight tests to validate the flight control systems.

First shown publicly at the 2015 ADEX show, the KUS-VH has an endurance of six hours and payload of 440 kg (970 pounds). KAL said development will continue until 2021 and will continue to expand the helicopter’s flight range and operational altitude. The goal is to develop the KUS-VH into an unmanned attack platform.

“We also expect to extend this technology to other helicopters, including the UH-1H and UH-60, as well as to fixed-wing fighters such as the F-5,” said Jong-koo Kang, director of Korean Air’s Aerospace Research Institute in a statement. He added that the system will also be made available for export and made to fit the clients’ requirements. KAL said sensors such as electro-optics, search and rescue packages, and Automatic Identification System (AIS) can be installed on the helicopter, depending on its intended mission.

Known as Korean Air Lines until 1984, the national flag-carrier’s Aerospace Division manufactured the MD500 under license from 1976 to 1988, but the type is now being phased out for newer helicopters such as the KAI KUH-1 Surion for combat utility and scout missions. KAL took a number of surplus MD500s from the Korean armed forces and started on the KUS-VH program in 2014. In late 2012 Boeing had demonstrated its own Unmanned Little Bird MD500 variant in Korea.