The US Army has taken delivery of the first of two prototype OH-58F Kiowa Warriors as part of that aircraft's Cockpit and Sensor Upgrade Program (CASUP).
Speaking during phone conference at the AUSA convention in Washington DC, Lt Col Matt Hannah, OH-58F project manager, said the programme deals with obsolescence issues bought about because progressive programmes to replace the aircraft with the Comanche and later the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) meant that the Kiowa Warrior has not enjoyed investment like the AH-64 Apache.
The update introduces a new Honeywell-developed avionics suite and a new EO/IR sensor - the Raytheon-built AN/AAS-53 Common Sensor Payload which is fitted onto the nose and eliminates the DRS Mast Mounted Sight (MMS).
Other changes include raised skids to increase the height off the ground of the sensor and a dual-channel FADEC for improved engine control.
Two prototypes are being built in Meridianville for flight tests. Production will then move to the Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD) in Texas, where a trio of pre-production standard aircraft will be assembled. The first squadron of OH-58Fs is due to be in army service in 2016.
All 368 aircraft in the programme of record are due to be put together at the CCAD, and army officials claim the move will save them $511 million over the course of the programme because of labour rates at CCAD and those at Bell Helicopter. A further $37 million has been saved in development costs.
The OH-58F weighs in at some 200 lb less than the OH-58D. When the first prototype was put on the scales, the aircraft weighed 3,592 lb, some 43 lb less than predicted. The majority of weight savings were made through the elimination of the MMS and less wiring.
'The whole community is excited about the capabilities this aircraft will bring,' said Col Robert Grigsby, project manager for the Armed Scout Helicopters programme office.
'The sensor gives us a better capability in respect of range and the extra ability to blend the IR and TV image will allow us to see different aspects of the scene.'
As the OH-58F programme progresses, Bell is also delivering the first batch of 49 wartime attrition aircraft. The first aircraft was delivered back to the army in June.
The first 23 aircraft will use refurbished airframes from retired OH-58A/C models, while the last 26 will be built from new-build airframes. Further aircraft may be needed, given the current annual loss rate of 5.2 Kiowa Warriors a year.
Once the attrition replacement programme is complete, the army hopes it will finally bring the fleet back to 368 aircraft.