Program officials at Bell Helicopter [TXT] have delivered a number of new cabins for the Army’s OH-58 Kiowa Warrior attack helicopter a month ahead of schedule to replace combat losses in Afghanistan, according to industry and military officials.
The “A2D” configured cabins located at the company’s Xworx rapid prototyping facility in Fort Worth, Texas “will be the foundation for production of the wartime replacement aircraft” for the Army, Lt. Col. Matthew Hannah, Kiowa Warrior product manager, said during a June 30 briefing with reporters
Since the contract between the Army and Bell for the A2D replacement cabins was signed last October, program officials have introduced an additional eight cabins–on top of those delivered last month–into the construction pipeline, Hannah said.
Those deliveries will allow the Army to reach its 368-helicopter goal for the OH-58, while being able to get combat loss replacements into the field faster, according to the Kiowa Warrior chief. “This is just the beginning,” he added. To hit that 368 number, Hannah said the Army will need to replace 40 Kiowa Warriors lost in combat operations.
Under the A2D program, designed by the Army specifically to expedite deliveries of replacement OH-58s, the cabin configuration is based on the A-model variant of the helicopter, but upgraded with features found on the more recent D-model version of the rotorcraft, Jim Schultz, program manager for Army Programs at Bell, said during the same briefing.
The biggest upgrade, according to Schultz, was increasing the cabin’s maximum weight capability from a 3,500 max gross weight to the 5,500 max gross weight threshold found in the D-models, he said.
The cabins will be shipped to the Army’s depot in Corpus Christi, Texas for avionics, weapons integration and final assembly. The cabins delivered last month are part of an 18-cabin buy agreed to by the Army under the A2D contract, Schultz said. Work on the remaining cabin conversions under the A2D contract will take place at the company’s assembly facility in Armarillo, Texas.
“The next [A2D] cabin is contracted to deliver in January of 2012 and then the follow-on cabins will deliver monthly, starting in March in 2012,” Schultz said.
Outside of the A2D deal, company officials are exploring options with their Army counterparts on replacing Kiowa Warriors lost in combat with helicopters built around new metal cabins, and not reconfigured A-model ones, Schultz said.
However, when asked if the Army does intend to switch to new metal cabins, once the A2D contract is complete, Hannah said ongoing service discussions were predecisional, and were dependent on what Bell officials can come up with, regarding that new metal cabin option. “Based on the results of that effort, the Army will make the decision on what the right direction to go is,” he added.
While company officials continue to push forward with the A2D effort and possible follow-on options, members of the Bell team are also moving ahead with testing on a new Block 2 configuration of the Kiowa Warrior.
Late last month, program officials successfully completed hover tests on a prototype version of the Block 2 Kiowa during live flight tests held in Colorado, Schultz said. Exceeding the 5,500 max gross weight of the D-model version, the Block 2 test rotorcraft is being touted as the next step in Army aviation to meet future requirements, he added.
“The [Block 2] demonstrator [closes] performance gaps currently in the [Armed aerial] scout mission requirements,” according to Schultz.