MD Helicopters is developing a new assault helicopter known as MD6XX as the company also prepares to deliver an updated version of the commercial MD902 Explorer.

Company owner Lynn Tilton disclosed development of the 6XX at Heli-Expo on 1 March. A non-flying prototype is expected to arrive in the first quarter of 2017 ahead of integration with the FADEC-equipped Rolls-Royce M250-C47E3 engines.

The aircraft is not intended as a direct replacement for the MD530F Cayuse Warrior and MD530G light attack helicopters respectively ordered by Afghanistan and Malaysia, but is a larger, clean-sheet aircraft aimed at future armed aerial scout-type roles for the domestic and international markets.

Detailed design work is already underway, and Tilton wants it ready by 2018 for delivery to at least one unidentified potential customer.

“We’ll probably have a customer who will expect delivery at that time,” she says. “In 2017, we’re looking towards completing testing and certifying the aircraft so we can start building in 2018. If I can move that to the left, I’d be happy, but by the end of 2018 I believe I’d have aircraft I have to deliver.”

MD 530F

MD530F Cayuse Warrior

MD Helicopters

Though not in the revolutionary, high-speed class of the Sikorsky S-97 Raider or Bell Helicopter V-280 Valor tiltrotor, Tilton says it is the company's second chance at developing a light assault platform superior to the MD340F, which had been vying for the US Army’s shelved Armed Aerial Scout programme. The first artist’s rendering of the 6XX type will be released sometime this year.

“There’s not enough space in the 500 in terms of mission equipment,” she says. “We’ll see what the specification is, but I think it’s going to come down to technology and mission equipment" rather than radical propulsion technologies.

MD’s vice-president of engineering Carl Schopfer says the prototype will be delivered early next year, and first flight will depend on Rolls-Royce's overdue delivery of M250-C47E3 engines. The 6XX will include some fly-by-wire technologies and automation, and will have a target range is 400nm (740km).



MD902 Explorer display airframe and cockpit

James Drew/Flightglobal

Meanwhile, the 902 Explorer, which features an all-new digital flightdeck from Universal Avionics Systems, has completed its first flight and Tilton expects initial deliveries later this year.

She says “we definitely took our attention away from the 902” in pursuit of the military 530F and Malaysian G-model, but now Explorer is set for relaunch and recertification as iit looks to lift flagging sales.