Bell Helicopter OH-58A "Kiowa"
Bell Textron OH-58A Kiowa at the 2000 Torrance Airshow, Zamperini Field, Torrance, CA
The Bell OH-58 Kiowa is a family of single-engine, single-rotor, military helicopters used for observation, utility, and direct fire support. Bell Helicopter originally manufactured the OH-58 for the United States Army, based on the Model 206A JetRanger helicopter. The Kiowa has been in continuous use by the U.S. Army since 1969. The latest model, the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, is primarily operated in an armed reconnaissance role in support of ground troops. The OH-58 has been exported to Austria, Canada, Dominican Republic, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia; as well as having been produced under license in Australia.
Design and Development
In October 1960, the Army submitted a Request For Proposals (RFP) for the Light Observation Helicopter (LOH). Bell, along with 12 other manufacturers (including Fairchild-Hiller and Hughes Tool Co. Aircraft Division), entered the competition. In January 1961, Bell proposed their Model 206 design, which was selected out of the design phase of the Navy-run competition by the Army and designated as the YHO-4.
Light Observation Helicopter (LOH)
Bell produced five prototype aircraft in 1962 for the Army's test and evaluation phase. The first prototype flew on 8 December 1962. That same year, all aircraft began to be designated according to the new Joint Services designation system, so the prototype aircraft were redesignated as YOH-4A. The YOH-4A also became known as the Ugly Duckling in comparison to the other contending aircraft. During the testing phase, the test pilots complained about the power problems of the aircraft, which eliminated it from consideration.
When the YOH-4A was rejected by the Army, Bell went about solving the problem of marketing the aircraft. In addition to the image problem, the helicopter lacked cargo space and only provided cramped quarters for the planned three passengers in the back. The solution was a fuselage redesigned to be more sleek and aesthetic, adding 16 cubic feet (0.45 m3) of cargo space in the process. The redesigned aircraft was designated as the Model 206A, and Bell President Edwin J. Ducayet named it the JetRanger denoting an evolution from the popular Model 47J Ranger.
In 1967, the Army reopened the LOH competition for bids because Hughes Tool Co. Aircraft Division couldn't meet the contractual production demands. Bell resubmitted for the program using the Bell 206A. Fairchild-Hiller failed to resubmit their bid with the YOH-5A, which they had successfully marketed as the FH-1100. In the end, Bell underbid Hughes to win the contract and the Bell 206A was designated as the OH-58A. Following the U.S. Army's naming convention for helicopters, the OH-58A was named Kiowa in honor of the Native American tribe.
Advanced Scout Helicopter
In the 1970s, the U.S. Army began evaluating the need to improve the capabilities of their scout aircraft. The OH-58A lacked the power for operations in areas that exposed the aircraft to high altitude and hot temperatures, areas where the ability to acquire targets was a critical deficiency in the tactical warfare capabilities of Army aviation. The power shortcoming caused other issues as the Army anticipated the AH-64A's replacement of the venerable AH-1 in the Attack battalions of the Army. The Army began shopping the idea of an Aerial Scout Program to industry as a prototype exercise to stimulate the development of advanced technological capabilities for night vision and precision navigation equipment. The stated goals of the program included prototypes that would: ... possess an extended target acquisition range capability by means of a long-range stabilized optical subsystem for the observer, improved position location through use of a computerized navigation system, improved survivability by reducing aural, visual, radar, and infrared signatures, and an improved flight performance capability derived from a larger engine to provide compatibility with attack helicopters.
In early March 1974, the Army created a special task force to develop the system requirements for the Aerial Scout Helicopter program, and in 1975 the task force had formulated the requirements for the Advanced Scout Helicopter (ASH) program. The requirements were formulated around an aircraft capable of performing in day, night, and adverse weather and compatible with all the advanced weapons systems planned for development and fielding into the 1980s. The program was approved by the System Acquisition Review Council and the Army prepared for competitive development to begin the next year. However, as the Army tried to get the program off the ground, Congress declined to provide funding for it in the fiscal year 1977 budget and the ASH Project Manager's Office (PM-ASH) was closed on 30 September 1976.
While no development occurred during the next few years, the program survived as a requirement without funding. On 30 November 1979, the decision was made to defer development of an advanced scout helicopter in favor of pursuing modification of existing airframes in the inventory as a near term scout helicopter (NTSH) option. The development of a mast-mounted sight would be the primary focus to improve the aircraft's ability to perform reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition missions while remaining hidden behind trees and terrain. Both the UH-1 and the OH-58 were evaluated as NTSH candidates, but the UH-1 was dropped from consideration due to its larger size and ease of detection. The OH-58, on the other hand demonstrated a dramatic reduction in detectability with an MMS.
On 10 July 1980, the Army decided that the NTSH would be a competitive modification program based on developments in the commercial helicopter industry, particularly Hughes Helicopters development of the Hughes 500D which provided significant improvements over the OH-6.
Army Helicopter Improvement Program (AHIP)
The Army's decision to acquire the NTSH resulted in the "Army Helicopter Improvement Program (AHIP)". Both Bell Helicopter and Hughes Helicopters redesigned their scout aircraft to compete for the contract. Bell offered a more robust version of the OH-58 in their model 406 aircraft, and Hughes offered an upgraded version of the OH-6, and on 21 September 1981, Bell Helicopter Textron was awarded a development contract. The first prototype flew on 6 October 1983, and the aircraft entered service in 1985 as the OH-58D.
Initially intended to be used in attack, cavalry and artillery roles, the Army only approved a low initial production level and confined the role of the OH-58D to field artillery observation. The Army also directed that a follow-on test be conducted to further evaluate the aircraft due to perceived deficiencies. On 1 April 1986, the Army formed a task force at Fort Rucker, Alabama, to remedy deficiencies in the AHIP. As a result of those deliberations, the Army had planned to discontinue the OH-58D in 1988 and focus on the LHX, but Congress approved $138 million for expanding the program, calling for the AHIP to operate with the Apache as a hunter/killer team; the AHIP would locate the targets, and the Apache would destroy them in a throwback to the traditional OH-58/AH-1 relationship.
The Secretary of the Army directed instead that the aircraft's armament systems be upgraded, based on experience with Task Force 118's performance operating armed OH-58D helicopters in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Prime Chance, and that the aircraft be used primarily for scouting and armed reconnaissance. The armed aircraft would be known as the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, denoting its new armed configuration. Beginning with the production of the 202nd aircraft (s/n 89-0112) in May 1991, all remaining OH-58D aircraft were produced in the Kiowa Warrior configuration. In January 1992, Bell Helicopter received its first retrofit contract to convert all remaining OH-58D Kiowa helicopters to the Kiowa Warrior configuration.
Major General John Norton, commanding general of the Army Aviation Materiel Command (AMCOM), received the first OH-58A Kiowa at a ceremony at Bell Helicopter's Fort Worth plant in May 1969. Two months later, on 17 August 1969, the first production OH-58A Kiowa helicopters were arriving in Vietnam, accompanied by a New Equipment Training Team (NETT) from the Army and Bell Helicopters. Although the Kiowa production contract replaced the LOH contract with Hughes, the OH-58A did not automatically replace the OH-6A in operation. Subsequently, the “Kiowa” and the “Cayuse” would continue operating in the same theater until the end of the war.
On 27 March 1970, an OH-58A Kiowa (s/n 68-16785) was shot down over Vietnam, one of the first OH-58A losses of the war. The pilot, Warrant Officer Ralph Quick, Jr., was flying Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Benoski, Jr. as an artillery spotter. After completing a battle damage assessment for a previous fire mission, the aircraft was damaged by .51 cal (13 mm) machine gun fire and crashed, killing both crew members. Approximately 45 OH-58A helicopters were destroyed in Vietnam due to combat and accidents. One of the last combat losses was of an OH-58A (s/n 68-16888) from A Troop, 3-17th Cavalry, flown by First Lieutenant Thomas Knuckey. On 27 May 1971, Lieutenant Knuckey was also flying a battle damage assessment mission when his aircraft came under machine gun fire and exploded. Knuckey and his observer, Sergeant Philip Taylor, both died in the explosion.
Operation Prime Chance
In early 1988, it was decided that armed OH-58D (AHIP) helicopters from the 118th Aviation Task Force would be phased in to replace the SEABAT (AH-6/MH-6) teams of Task Force 160th to carry out Operation Prime Chance, the escort of oil tankers during the Iran–Iraq War. On 24 February 1988, two AHIP helicopters reported to the Wimbrown VII, and the SEABAT team stationed on the barge returned to the United States. For the next few months, the AHIP helicopters on the Wimbrown VII shared patrol duties with the SEABAT team on the Hercules. Coordination was difficult, but despite frequent requests from TF-160, the SEABAT team on the Hercules was not replaced by an AHIP detachment until June 1988. The OH-58D helicopter crews involved in the operation received deck landing and underwater survival training from the Navy.
In November 1988, the number of OH-58D helicopters that supported Task Force 118 was reduced. However, the aircraft continued to operate from the Navy's Mobile Sea Base Hercules, the frigate Underwood, and the destroyer Connolly. OH-58D operations primarily entailed reconnaissance flights at night, and depending on maintenance requirements and ship scheduling, Army helicopters usually rotated from the mobile sea base and other combatant ships to a land base every seven to fourteen days. On 18 September 1989, an OH-58D crashed during night gunnery practice and sank, but with no loss of personnel. When the Mobile Sea Base Hercules was inactivated in September 1989, all but five OH-58D helicopters redeployed to the continental United States.
In 1989, Congress mandated that the Army National Guard would be a player in the country's War on Drugs, enabling them to aid federal, state and local law enforcement agencies with "special congressional entitlements". In response, the Army National Guard Bureau created the Reconnaissance and Aerial Interdiction Detachments (RAID) in 1992, consisting of aviation units in 31 states with 76 specially modified OH-58A helicopters to assume the reconnaissance/interdiction role in the fight against illegal drugs. During 1994 twenty-four states conducted more than 1,200 aerial counter-drug reconnaissance and interdiction missions, conducting many of these missions at night. Eventually, the program was expanded to cover 32 states and consisting of 116 aircraft, including dedicated training aircraft at the Western Army Aviation Training Site (WAATS) in Marana, Arizona.
The RAID program's mission has now been expanded to include the war against terrorism and supporting U.S. Border Patrol activities in support of homeland defense. The National Guard RAID units' Area of Operation (AO) is the only one in the Department of Defense that is wholly contained within the borders of the United States.
Operation Just Cause
During Operation Just Cause, a Scout Weapons Team, consisting of an OH-58 and an AH-1, were part of the Aviation Task Force during the securing of Fort Amador in Panama when the OH-58 was fired upon by Panama Defense Force soldiers and crashed 100 yards (91 m) away, in the Bay of Panama. The pilot was rescued but the co-pilot died.
In 17 December 1994, in Korea a Wha-Sung shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile brought down a U.S. Army OH-58C that had strayed north of the De-Militarized Zone that acts as a sort of "No Man's Land", or a buffer, separating North and South Korea. One pilot was killed, the other survived and was taken prisoner by North Korea. He was released after several weeks in custody with minor injuries.
The United States Army has employed Kiowa Warriors during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Through attrition to combat and accidents, over 30 airframes have been destroyed. The age of the helicopters and the loss of airframes resulted in a program to procure a new aircraft, the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter ARH-70, which was later canceled due to cost overruns.
OH-58A: The OH-58A Kiowa' is a 4-place observation helicopter. The Kiowa has two-place pilot seating, although the controls in the left seat are designed to be removed to carry a passenger up front. During its Vietnam development, it was fitted with the M134 Minigun, a 7.62 mm electrically operated machine gun. A total of 74 OH-58A helicopters were delivered to the Canadian Armed Forces as COH-58A and later redesignated as CH-136 Kiowa helicopters. In 1978, OH-58A aircraft began to be converted to the same engine and dynamic components as the OH-58C. And, in 1992, 76 OH-58A were modified with another engine upgrade, a thermal imaging system, a communications package for law enforcement, enhanced navigational equipment and high skid gear as part of the Army National Guard's (ARNG) Counter-Drug RAID program.
OH-58B: An export version for the Austrian Air Force.
CAC CA-32: The Australian Government also procured the OH-58A for the Australian Army and Royal Australian Navy. Produced under contract in Australia as the CA-32 by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, the aircraft was the equivalent of the 206B-1 (upgraded engine and longer rotor blades). The first twelve of 55 were built in the U.S. then partially disassembled and shipped to Australia where they were reassembled. Helicopters in the naval fleet were retired in 2000.
OH-58C: Equipped with a more robust engine, the OH-58C was supposed to solve many issues and concerns regarding the Kiowa's power. In addition to the upgraded engine, the OH-58C had unique IR suppression systems mounted on its turbine exhaust. Early "C" models featured flat-panel windscreen as an attempt to reduce glint from the sun, which could give away the aircraft's location to an enemy. The windscreen had a negative effect of limiting the forward view of the crew, a previous strength of the original design. The aircraft were also equipped with a larger instrument panel, roughly a third bigger than the OH-58A panel, which held larger flight instruments. The panel was also equipped with Night Vision Goggle (NVG) compatible cockpit lighting. The lights inside the aircraft are modified to prevent them from interfering with the aircrews' use of NVGs. OH-58C aircraft were also the first U.S. Army scout helicopter to be equipped with the AN/APR-39 radar detector, a system which allowed the crew to know when there were anti-aircraft radar systems in proximity to the aircraft. Some OH-58C aircraft were armed with two AIM-92 Stingers. These aircraft are sometimes referred to as OH-58C/S, the "S" referring to the Stinger installation. Called Air-To-Air Stinger (ATAS), the weapon system was intended to provide an air defense capability.
OH-58D: The OH-58D (Bell Model 406) was the result of the Army Helicopter Improvement Program (AHIP). An upgraded transmission and engine gave the aircraft the power it needed for nap-of-the-earth flight profiles, and a four-bladed main rotor made it much quieter than the two-bladed OH-58C. The OH-58D introduced the most distinctive feature of the Kiowa family — a Mast-Mounted Sight (MMS) above the rotor system with a gyro-stabilized platform containing a TeleVision System (TVS), a Thermal Imaging System (TIS), and a Laser Range Finder/Designator (LRF/D). These new features gave the aircraft the additional mission capability of target acquisition and laser designation in both day or night, and in limited-visibility and adverse weather.
406CS: Fifteen aircraft based on the OH-58D (sometimes referred to as the MH-58D) were sold to Saudi Arabia as the Bell 406CS "Combat Scout". A Saab HeliTOW sight system was opted for in place of the MMS. The sight was mounted on the roof of the aircraft, just above the left pilot seat. The 406CS also had detachable weapon hard points on each side.
AH-58D: OH-58D aircraft operated by Task Force 118 (4th Squadron, 17th Cavalry) and modified with armament in support of Operation Prime Chance. The weapons and fire control systems would become the basis for the Kiowa Warrior. AH-58D is not an official DOD aircraft designation, but is used by the Army in reference to these aircraft.
Kiowa Warrior: The Kiowa Warrior, sometimes referred to by its acronym KW, is the armed version of the OH-58D Kiowa. The main difference that distinguishes the Kiowa Warrior from the original AHIP aircraft is a universal weapons pylon found mounted on both sides of the aircraft. These pylons are capable of carrying combinations of Hellfire missiles, Air-to-Air Stinger (ATAS) missiles, 7-shot 2.75 in (70 mm) Hydra-70 rocket pods, and an M296 .50 caliber machine gun. The Kiowa Warrior upgrade also includes improvements in available power, navigation, communication and survivability, as well as modifications to improve the aircraft's deployability.
OH-58X: Modification of the fourth development OH-58D (s/n 69-16322) with partial stealth features and a chin-mounted McDonnell-Douglas Electronics Systems turret as a night piloting system; including a Kodak FLIR system with a 30-degree field of view. Avionics systems were consolidated and moved to the nose, making room for a passenger seat in the rear. No aircraft were produced.
Specifications — OH-58A Kiowa
Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior