MD Helicopters launches armed MD540F

Nashville
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MD Helicopters has announced that the new MD540F will be its entrant for the US Army's Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) demonstration.

The Mesa, Arizona-based company confirmed its plans during the Army Aviation Association of America annual professional forum and exposition in Nashville, Tennessee on 3 April.

MD Helicopters is the latest company to express interest in the AAS programme, despite army officials saying the service may not buy a new helicopter at all, and instead retain a life-extended fleet of Bell OH-58F Kiowa Warriors.

EADS has also rolled-out its AAS-72X contender, while Bell, Boeing and Sikorsky all had a strong presence at the event, displaying their respective aircraft.

Lynn Tilton, chief executive of MD Helicopters, introduced the new MD540F. "It is not a model, it is not a mock-up, and we hope that certification will be done in the first quarter of 2013," she says. "We think this is going to be a lethal fighting machine and we'll see it all around the world."

The new machine has six-bladed composite rotors and a beefed-up landing gear to support an increased gross take-off weight of about 1,810kg (4,000lb). It has an upgraded Rolls-Royce 250-C30HU engine with full-authority digital engine controls, but retains the same transmission as its 530F predecessor. The aircraft will be able to meet the army's requirement to hover at 6,000ft (1,800m) in temperatures of 35˚C (95˚F).

Israel's Elbit Systems provides the displays and weapons systems, says chief operating officer Carl Schopfer. But the company has yet to decide what kind of electro-optical/infrared camera it might offer.

Boeing, meanwhile, is offering the AH-6 Little Bird for the army demonstration. The Little Bird is based on the same basic airframe, but is aimed at a higher-level market, Schopfer says.

"There is a market for both aircraft," he says. "We're a little bit [of a] different market, they [Boeing] know that."

Nonetheless, MD will take on Boeing if there is an army competition, Schopfer says. He does not expect any friction with the larger company.

If the army decides not to go ahead with a new aircraft for the AAS programme, MD says it will still try to sell the aircraft to foreign customers. The company has already sold six aircraft to Afghanistan under a US Foreign Military Sales contract, Tilton says.

Schopfer says there has been some other foreign interest, but declines to offer details.