Bell re-establish OH-58D production

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Rocked by the U.S. Army’s 2008 cancellation of its over-budget ARH-70 armed reconnaissance helicopter program to replace the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, Bell Helicopter hatched a plan to recapture its customer by capitalizing on perhaps its most successful product, the OH-58D itself.

That approach has moved forward with delivery of the cabin for the first of 19 wartime replacement rotorcraft and hot-and-high performance testing of the company-funded OH-58D Block 2 demonstrator. The two milestones are key to Bell’s strategy to re-establish OH-58D production and demonstrate that an upgraded Kiowa Warrior can meet the Army’s Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) requirement.

Bell delivered the first OH-58A cabin upgraded to the OH-58D standard to the Army on June 30 under the A2D program, 30 days ahead of schedule. The refurbished cabin was shipped from the company’s Xworx rapid prototyping center in Fort Worth to Corpus Christi Army Depot, Texas, for installation of avionics and dynamic components.

The remaining 18 cabins under Bell’s initial $76.2 million A2D contract will be completed at its plant in Amarillo, Texas, where it will establish an assembly line. The Army needs 40 helicopters to replace wartime losses, and Bell and the Army continue to discuss moving to a “new metal” cabin for some of the remaining aircraft. Stripping, converting and assembling the airframes is a two-year process.

The manufacture of new cabins is a key step in Bell’s strategy, as it would establish a hot production line for the AAS program. “We have gone to our suppliers, asked for quotes and provided the information to the Army,” says Jim Schultz, manager of Bell’s Army programs. Although the Army’s Kiowa Warriors were all converted from existing airframes, Bell built 38 new OH-58Ds for Taiwan, so data is available, he says.

The Army does not have a schedule for deciding whether to move to new metal cabins, and there are more OH-58A cabins available for upgrade, says Maj. Jeffery McCoy, Army assistant product manager for Kiowa Warrior. Any decision likely will be linked to the service’s AAS acquisition strategy. An analysis of alternatives has been completed, but “the Army has not made a final decision on the direction of AAS,” McCoy says.

With competitors lining up for the AAS—including the AgustaWestland AW119, Boeing AH-6S, EADS AAS-72 and Sikorsky high-speed, coaxial-rotor S-67 Raider—Bell is betting that the Army will lack the funds for a new helicopter. Its Block 2 proposal would build on the ongoing OH-58F Cockpit and Sensor Upgrade Program (Casup) by introducing an uprated engine and drive train to give the modernized Kiowa Warrior the 6,000-ft., 95F high/hot performance the Army seeks from the AAS.

In June, the first Block 2 demonstrator, powered by a 1,000-shp-class Honeywell HTS900 engine, conducted flight tests in Colorado that showed the upgraded aircraft can hover out of ground effect at 6K/95 at a gross weight higher than the OH-58D’s 5,500-lb. maximum, says Bell. The HTS900 engine installation was originally developed for the canceled ARH-70. A second Block 2 demonstrator is planned, powered by an uprated version of the Rolls-Royce Model 250 engine.

Bell is supporting Army-led development of the Casup improvements, which include moving the targeting sensor under the nose from above the rotor, and it argues that adding a new engine, transmission and rotor would meet AAS requirements at the lowest cost and risk as it capitalizes on the planned $2 billion investment in the F model. The Army plans to begin upgrading its OH-58Ds to -Fs in fiscal 2015, says McCoy.

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