The US Army has finished building the first Bell OH-58F Kiowa Warrior helicopter at its prototype integration facility. The aircraft will now start to be instrumented for its first test flight, which is expected in April.

"It truly is a great day for army aviation," says Lt Col Mat Hannah, the service's product manager for the OH-58F.

Unlike most other military projects, the army designed and built the new variant of the Kiowa Warrior itself. "It's the first time that the army has been the system integrator for a new mission design series or new aircraft," Hannah says. "That in itself is a huge role. It saves about $37 million in development costs."

Developing the OH-58F was one of the most challenging programmes the army's Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) has ever undertaken, says Brad Welch, one of the prototype integration facility engineers who built the modernised machine.

The army-designed machine came in at 1,630kg (3,590lb), 24kg below its weight target, Hannah says. That is about 90.7kg less than the OH-58D less weight means better performance. Hannah says that the army reduced the aircraft's weight primarily through fewer wires routed more efficiently and a lighter sensor.

The army will build three initial test aircraft in Alabama, including the first test helicopter. The next machine will be delivered in March. The first production qualification aircraft will start being built in January and will be handed over to the army by the end of 2013. Production should then be transferred to the Corpus Christi Army Depot, with low rate production starting in March 2015. The first operational squadron should be fully equipped by 2016, Hannah says.

The army will buy 368 of the OH-58Fs, Hannah says. Initially, current D-model aircraft will be converted into the F-model at Corpus Christi. But later, older A-model and C-model OH-58s, which are currently being remanufactured into D-models, will instead be remanufactured into F-models. Additionally, some war-loss replacement aircraft which are going to be built new from scratch starting next year may be built directly into OH-58Fs. Building the aircraft at the Corpus Christi Army Depot will save the service about $551 million in production. Each helicopter conversion will cost between $4 million and $5 million, Hannah says.

Source: Flight International