01 April 2009

The OH-58D

The media talks at great length about the fact that, barring the F-22, which entered the fleet two years ago, the Air Force hasn't produced a new fighter aircraft for over twenty-five years. Well, the Army Aviation community is falling into the same trap, as we're seeing with the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior.

The aeroscout program in Vietnam transitioned from the OH-13 (The M*A*S*H* helicopter) to the OH-6 Cayuse, which is still used by many Special Operations units, before finally procuring the OH-58 Kiowa.

The OH-58 Kiowa was merely an off-the-shelf Bell 206B JetRanger, which was painted green and had few luxuries. Aircrews would jokingly compare the OH-58 to the OH-6 and later refer to the OH-58 as the "OH-5.8", because it just wasn't up to speed with its predecessor.

The OH-58 received a series of upgrades throughout the 70s and 80s, bringing it up to the OH-58C specifications. In the late 80s/early 90s, it was given a bigger engine, armament, and a mast-mounted sight. The OH-58 was always grossly underpowered, and even with the new engine, the aircraft constantly operated within 90% of its max gross weight on a standard day at sea level. Upon combat operations in Afghanistan, the aircraft was dubbed unworthy of being able to participate in a campaign which took place in 10,000 foot mountains. A few units have actually brought their OH-58s to Afghanistan, and despite one pilot's boast that they were "tearing up the countryside", I suspect that they were doing that because they could barely get their skids off the ground, forcing them to operate as over-glorified lawnmowers over the mountains of Afghanistan. In fact, they even sound like lawnmowers, believe it or not.

When I was going through flight school in 2002-2003, the program of instruction was still stuck in the post-drawdown lull--we were still using Cold-War era tactics, and, in an effort to save money, were flying late 1960s-model OH-58Cs, which was described as "ten pounds of sugar in a five pound bag". In other words, the OH-58 was at the end of its upgrade line.

The instructors provided free advertisement for the OH-58 mission, having all been OH-58C or D pilots. We were told "don't worry about the Kiowa. In a few years, the Kiowa pilots will have the RAH-66 Comanche. Go ahead and select the Kiowa for your primary aircraft".

Two years later, the Comanche got cancelled.

Then when I came back to Fort Rucker as a captain, the OH-58 pilots finally trumpeted, "pretty soon, we'll get the new ARH-70 helicopter".

And as of last year, it was cancelled.

While I have great respect for the people who fly and maintain the aircraft, making missions happen despite aging and underpowered equipment, the aircraft's time has passed--a mix of UAVs for scout work with a smaller force of OH-6 type aircraft for the down-and-dirty work should fit the bill nicely.

1 comment:

SunJun said...

My buddy who worked in Philadelphia told me that there was nothing more painful than watching the bulldozers take out the Comanche tooling and equipment.