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Bell OH-58 Kiowa Armed Scout and Reconnaissance / Light Attack Helicopter (1969)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 2/26/2014

The Bell OH-58 Kiowa light helicopter series has seen a successful operational tenure beginning in the late 1960s.

The Bell OH-58 Kiowa has seen a long, successful and extended service life with the US Army (and others) since its inception in May of 1969. The type was a further development of the civilian Bell Model 206 "JetRanger" / "LongRanger" multi-role helicopter platform - first flying on December 8th, 1962. The Bell 206 proved hugely successful in its civilian guises that some 7,300 were eventually produced. The US Army selected the Bell 206 as the basis for the Kiowa series through their Light Observation Helicopter program, this selection spawning, in turn, the equally successful militarized version known as the OH-58 "Kiowa Warrior". Some 2,200 Kiowas were eventually delivered to the US Army and allied forces worldwide. The mount has proven indispensible in the armed reconnaissance role, artillery observation role and when working in conjunction with fast-moving cavalry formations involving infantry fighting vehicles.

Externally, the Kiowa presents a streamlined and lightweight form. The cockpit is held well-forward on the fuselage and seats the pilot and co-pilot/observer. The cockpit provides for excellent forward viewing thanks to its large forward windscreens and removable automobile-style hinged side doors. To the rear of the cockpit is the passenger cabin that sports exit-entry doors and room for an additional two or three personnel or two medical litters. The engine is mounted atop and to the rear of the passenger cabin, powering the main rotor blades. In the OH-58D model (detailed below), the identifiable Mast Mounted Sight (MMS) is installed atop the main rotor mast. The slim empennage extends out from the rear fuselage and fits a pair of horizontal planes midway aft. At the extreme end of the empennage is a vertical tail fin facing starboard and the two-bladed tail rotor facing portside. The Kiowa does not have a standard powered wheeled undercarriage but instead makes use of a rather traditional and simplistic heavy duty landing skid system braced at two positions along the fuselage underside. The aircraft's inherent quick set-up capabilities require a preparation time of just ten minutes from unloading to flight.

The Kiowa was originally known under the Bell model designation of "206A" and first flight was recorded on January 10th, 1966. Production of militarized Kiowas began that same year and would run into 1989, covering various types and marks to suit mission need, technological advances or customer requirements.

The initial OH-58 production model became the "OH-58A" which was a dedicated light observation platform with seating for four and was only partially armed when it saw service in the Vietnam War. Armament could be either an M134 Minigun or M129 40mm automatic grenade launcher and was consistent with weaponry as found on other armed US Army helos in the conflict. The OH-58A was also accepted into service with the Canadian Army and these took on the designation of "COH-58A", later becoming the "CH-136". The OH-58A was fitted with a single Allison T63-A-700 series turboshaft engine of 317 shaft horsepower which provided for a top speed of 138 miles per hour and a cruise speed of 117 miles per hour. Range was out to 300 miles with a service ceiling of approximately 19,000 feet. "OH-58B" was used to designate export models for Austria.

OH-58Cs were given a more powerful engine, IR suppression and revised forward windscreens. Its cockpit was also redesigned to an extent and night vision support was introduced. The OH-58C models were also the first of the lineage with provision for the short-ranged AIM-92 "Stinger" anti-aircraft missile to which a pair of these could be mounted along hardpoints at the fuselage sides. This provided for a mobile air-based enemy aircraft/helicopter deterrent for cavalry forces lacking such defense.

The OH-58D became the definitive mark of the Kiowa production line, first flying in prototype form on October 6th, 1983. The OH-58D arose out of the US Army's "Army Helicopter Improvement Program" (AHIP) of 1979 to which Bell faced off against a modified Hughes OH-6 Cayuse. Bell ultimately nabbed the defense contract and the OH-58D legacy was born, the aircraft entering service in December of 1985. It was given a new engine and gearbox as well as a four-bladed main rotor assembly (previous versions only fielded a two-bladed system) and was intended as an unarmed scout. The most distinctive feature of this model mark became its McDonnell Douglas Astranautics Mast Mounted Sight (MMS) which appeared as nothing more than a sphere atop a mast which was fitted atop the main rotor mast. The MMS itself was a collection of equipment and lenses encompassing a laser range-finder / laser designator, thermal imaging and television optics. Internally, crews were greeted with an upgraded digital cockpit that introduced Multi-Function Displays for both cockpit positions. In fact, the OH-58D became the first US Army helicopter to field an "all glass" cockpit. Interestingly, the old-style analog gauges and instruments were retained in the event of a failure to the digital wares. An APR-39 indicator could alert pilots to enemy guided missile launches directed at the aircraft. The pilot and co-pilot positions featured redundant controls as in most helicopters.

The OH-58D gave rise to the 406CS "Combat Scout" for Saudi Arabian export. These were naturally stripped of valuable technological components and, as such, fitted a Saab-branded "HeliTOW" system to replace the MMS. The 406CS could then be armed as needed by the Saudi Army with missiles, machine guns or rocket pods. With development of the RAH-66 Comanche light attack helicopter still ongoing at this time, it was always held that the OH-58D would serve as a stop-gap solution until the former could overtake the latter's place in the US Army inventory.

The OH-58D "Kiowa Warrior" was fitted with a Rolls-Royce T703-AD-700A (or Allison 250-C30R/3) turboshaft engine of 650 horsepower. Maximum speed was 149 miles per hour with a cruise speed of 127 miles per hour. Range was out to 345 miles and the service ceiling was now down to 15,000 feet. Armament selection included the AGM-114 "Hellfire" guided anti-tank missiles, Hydra 70 series high-explosive unguided rockets, 12.7mm heavy caliber machine guns (in M296 or M3P mounts) and the aforementioned AIM-92 "Stinger" air-to-air missile (the latter since dropped from active use with Kiowa Warriors).

Initially, it was expected that nearly 600 existing OH-58A and OH-58C models would be upgraded to the newer OH-58D standard but less than 500 were eventually contracted for the change. Additionally, the original unarmed nature of the OH-58D was soon changed to that of armed light scout with some 188 examples becoming "Kiowa Warriors". To date, the OH-58D has seen a variety of helpful upgrades to its existing design. These have included a folding horizontal tailplanes, collapsible main rotor blades (all blades folding to the rear, over the tail unit), improved communications and "squatting" wheeled landing gear (replacing the landing skids) for easing ground handling and storage in hangars and C-class transport aircraft. The MMS is removable as well for a lower profile and can be stored along the side of the Kiowa fuselage on a special support jig.

The "OH-58F" designation is a proposed modernization program designation that is intending to keep the OH-58 series airborne into the next decade - presumably up to 2025 according to sources. The type is expected to introduce additional proven systems to help broaden the OH-58s self-supportive nature and battlefield reach as well as enhance performance and crew survivability.

The designation of "OH-58X" was used for an abandoned OH-58D initiative that would have added limited stealth characteristics and a tech-heavy McDonnell Douglas Electronic Systems chin mount (for FLIR and night piloting) along with other internal system upgrades though some related "Stealth Warrior" OH-58Ds were eventually generated. These have seen operations in Iraq and sport pointier nose assemblies, vent intake covers, radar-absorbing coating and various other minor internal and external differences.

In all, the OH-58 family has been featured in the air arms of Australia, Austria, Canada, Taiwan, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. The United States Army currently utilizes OH-58A, OH-58C and OH-58D "Kiowa Warrior" models in its stable though all OH-58D Kiowa Warriors serve with the 6th and 17th Cavalry Regiments.

American OH-58s first received their baptism of fire in the Vietnam War where the helicopter formally became a proven battlefield commodity. The initial Kiowas began arriving in Southeast Asia in August of 1969 and served side-by-side with the competing Hughes OH-6A "Cayuse" helicopters. Additional combat exploits found the OH-58 operating over the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War in Operation Prime Chance, defending shipping (oil tanker vessels) in the region - particularly targeting Iranian Navy gunboats operating aggressively in Gulf waters. Success in the armed role and delays to the RAH-66 Comanche light attack helicopter program encouraged further development of the Kiowa into the dedicated armed scout ("Kiowa Warrior"). Operation Just Cause was another call to action with OH-58s serving alongside Bell AH-1 "Cobra" attack helicopters. Beyond that, Kiowas have seen extended service over the skies over volatile Somalia and were used as part of the NATO coalition in both Bosnia and Kosovo. More recently, the OH-58 was fielded in anger during the 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 American invasion of Iraq where it has had to survive both insurgent attacks and debilitating sand storms alike.

Interestingly, both the RAH-66 Comanche and Bell ARH-70 light helicopters were, at one point or another, intended to replace the 1960s-era OH-58. However, both of these programs have since been outright cancelled by the American government due to ballooning project costs and delays (the RAH-66 was cancelled in 2004 and the ARH-70 in 2008 - the ARH-70 itself being an intended replacement for the RAH-66), leaving the OH-58 - more or less - in firm control of its short-term future, hence modernization programs to help keep her a viable battlefield implement for years to come.

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Specifications for the
Bell OH-58 Kiowa
Armed Scout and Reconnaissance / Light Attack Helicopter


Focus Model: Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Bell Helicopter Textron - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1969
Production: 2,200


Crew: 2 + 5


Length: 34.38ft (10.48m)
Width: 35.01ft (10.67m)
Height: 12.89ft (3.93m)
Weight (Empty): 3,289lbs (1,492kg)
Weight (MTOW): 5,501lbs (2,495kg)


Powerplant: 1 x Allison T703-AD-700 (Allison 250-C30R) turboshaft engine generating 650shp and driving a four-blade main rotor and two-blade tail rotor.


Maximum Speed: 131mph (211kmh; 114kts)
Maximum Range: 257miles (413km)
Service Ceiling: 15,000ft (4,572m; 2.8miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 1,540 feet per minute (469m/min)


Hardpoints: 2
Armament Suite:
Dependent upon production model and operating country. OH-58D mission-specific weapons loadout may consist of any combination of the following:

2 x 7.62mm Machine gun pods
2 x 7.62mm Minigun pod
2 x 12.7mm Machine gun pods
2 x Seven-round Hydra 70 rocket pods
4 x AGM-114C Hellfire anti-tank missiles
2 x Stinger AAMs (since discontinued)


Variants:
OH-58A - Four-Seat Observation Platform; optional minigun fitting.


COH-58A - Canadian Designation of OH-58A

CH-136 - Canadian Redesignation of COH-58A

OH-58B - Austrian Air Force Export Model

OH-58C - Improved engine; IR suppression; revised instrument panel; night vision support; provision for AIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

OH-58C/S - Stinger-armed OH-58C models

OH-58D - Fitted with mast-mounted sight; new four-blade main rotor system; revised transmission system; digital cockpit.

OH-58D "Kiowa Warrior" - Armed Conversion Model Designation; support for rocket pods, Hellfire AT missiles, Stinger AAMs and various gun pods; uprated transmission system; lighter structure design; IR jammer and RWR; increased MTOW; fitted with laser warning receiver.

OH-58X - Proposed (ultimately dropped) Dedicated Night Flying Model; fitted with chin-mounted specialized night flight systems; GPS.

406CS "Combat Scout" - Saudi Arabian Export Model Designation; delivered sans mast-mounted sight and some avionics; fitted with Saab-Emerson HeliTOW sight instead.

AH-58D - US Army designation for armed OH-58D model for use by Task Force 118 in Operation Prime Chance.

OH-58F - Proposed modernization program; upgraded cockpit and systems.


Operators:
Australia; Austria; Canada; Dominican Republic; Saudi Arabia; Taiwan; United States