Bell Helicopters has delivered the first OH-58D Kiowa wartime replacement helicopter to the US Army.
"We just finished the general maintenance test flight [and] acceptance flight approximately 1h ago," says a maintenance test pilot. "There are a few small issues to be fixed [but] it's very, very smooth flying."
The programme, which includes remanufacturing old OH-58As and building new -58D models, was conceived to replace combat losses from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the OH-58D fleet is authorized at 368, many aircraft have been lost due to crashes, enemy fire and fatigue.
"Right now we have 42 aircraft short of our 368. We also have approximately seven more pending attrition that we have to do analysis on," says the army. "Currently we are planning on 23 A-to-D conversions, and a total of 26 new-metal, for a total of 49."
Production rates should allow for one delivery per month through fiscal year 2014, dependent on Congressional funding appropriations.
The first delivery comes amidst reports of a 6 June OH-58D crash in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, due to enemy fire. Both crewmembers were killed in the incident.
"This aircraft without exception is the aircraft of choice for our air cover, anytime [troops] need security, anytime they're in a fight. It's an insatiable appetite for them," says the army.
The need is particularly acute for units that have recently rotated back to their bases, as such units suffer losses and often leave some aircraft for the unit that replaces them in combat. The first aircraft will be delivered to a unit at Ft Reilly, Kansas, which is crewed to operate 30 aircraft but currently flies nine.