April 2017

2017 April

US Army/Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior
OH-58D first flight: October 6, 1983 US Army formation farewell flight: April 15, 2016

Caption: Thirty-two US Army/Bell Helicopter Textron OH-58D Kiowa Warriors from the 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division conduct their final formation flight from Simmons Army Airfield, North Carolina, April 15, 2016.  

The OH-58D (Bell Model 406) was the result of the Army Helicopter Improvement Program (AHIP) won by Bell Helicopter in September 1981. An upgraded transmission and engine gave the aircraft the power it needed for nap-of-the-earth flight, while the four-bladed main rotor made it much quieter than the two-bladed OH-58C. The OH-58D introduced the distinctive ball-like Mast-Mounted Sight (MMS) above the rotor system, and a mixed glass cockpit, with traditional instruments identified as "standby" for emergency use.

The “AH-58D” was an OH-58D version operated by Task Force 118 (4th Squadron, 17th Cavalry) and modified with armament in support of Operation Prime Chance (which protected Persian Gulf oil tankers during the Iran-Iraq War). The weapons and fire control systems would become the basis for the Kiowa Warrior. (AH-58D is not an official DOD aircraft designation, but is used by the Army in reference to these aircraft.)

The Kiowa Warrior, sometimes referred to by its acronym KW, is the armed version of the OH-58D Kiowa. This armed version of the Kiowa first flew on October 6, 1983. The main difference that distinguishes the Kiowa Warrior from the original AHIP aircraft is a universal weapons pylon mounted on both sides of the aircraft. These pylons are capable of carrying combinations of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, air-to-air Stinger (ATAS) missiles, 7-shot 2.75 in (70 mm) Hydra-70 rocket pods and an M296 .50 caliber machine gun.

The Kiowa Warrior upgrade also included improvements in available power, navigation, communication and survivability, and the aircraft's deployability. Two Warriors can be transported in a C-130 aircraft. To help in its transportability, the vertical tail fin pivots, the main rotor blades and horizontal stabilizer are folded with the MMS, IFF antenna and lower wire cutter removed. The landing gear skids can “kneel” to lower overall height of the Warrior.

The OH-58 has been used in every major US Army deployment since the 1980s. During Operation Prime Chance in early 1988, it was used along with the AH-6 and MH-6 SEABAT teams to escort oil tankers through the Persian Gulf. National Guard Kiowa Warriors were used for drug interception in the 1990s, called reconnaissance and aerial interdiction detachments (RAID). The Kiowa Warrior was used during the invasion of Panama, for patrolling the demilitarized zone in Korea, and for operations in Haiti, Somalia, Desert Storm and Desert Shield. The Kiowa Warrior also served with distinction in the most recent conflicts, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

With the armed reconnaissance mission now performed by the AH-64E Apache helicopter teamed with UAVs, the OH-58D Warrior was retired from the US Army service in April 2016, with remaining Kiowa airframes being sold to foreign countries through foreign military sales (FMS) programs.

Description: Pete Noell
Photo credits: US Army/Staff Sgt Christopher Freeman/82nd CAB PAO; main photo: theaviationist.com

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