BELL IS PROPOSING to modify US Air Force UH-1Ns with the four-blade-rotor upgrade under development for US Marine Corps helicopters. New engines, transmissions and rotors, plus structural and avionics upgrades, will almost double the UH-1N's payload and range.

Under the Marine Corps' H-1 upgrade programme, 180 Bell AH-1WSuperCobras and 100 UH-1Ns are to be retrofitted with essentially the same four-blade-rotor dynamic system and avionics. Dubbed the 4BW and 4BN, remanufactured aircraft are expected to be redesignated the AH-68 and UH-69, Bell says.

The Air Force operates 64 UH-1Ns on missions which include missile-silo support, "-and needs to do something with them", the manufacturer believes, arguing that the upgrade is cheaper than buying Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks. Bell does not expect a large market for the UH-1H upgrade, but confirms that is already offering the improved AH-1W for export.

Programme manager Jim Manning says that the improved AH-1W will be available for export delivery, beginning with the third aircraft off the production line. Potential customers include Australia, Japan, Taiwan and Turkey. Plans call for low-rate production of the 4BN to begin in 2002, followed a year later by the 4BW.

The AH-1W upgrade provides 30% more power, 30% more fuel, and increases mission radius by a factor of more than three.

Source: Flight International