One of the pre-production versions of the AH-6i (Image © Boeing)

Three dozen Little Birds to reinforce Saudi Arabia

The first of three dozen “Little Birds”, of the newest AH-6i version, are soon to arrive in Saudi Arabia sources within the US armed forces confirmed in April 2015. The Kingdom choose the small versatile helicopters as part of a big modernization program to beef up its forces.

Thirty-six Boeing AH-6i choppers are meant to stream to Saudi Arabia the coming years, as well as 12 MD Helicopters MD 530Fs based on the similar Hughes OH-6 design and up to 82 Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardians plus 72 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters. So far the production of 24 AH-6i choppers have been confirmed.

The “Little Birds” prove quite successful in support of ground forces and as special forces transportation, having been deployed with US forces in difficult war zones like Somalia and Afghanistan during the past decades.

Flown by a crew of two, with a more powerful Roll-Royce engine, a six-bladed main rotor and many avionics and mission software from the heavier AH-64E Apache Guardian, the AH-6i is a relatively affordable asset – both in purchase costs as per flight hour. It can be equiped with a variety of weapons like 12.7 mm guns, AGM-114 Hellfire missiles against ground targets, as well as rocket pods attached to two points on each side of the chopper. A sensor turret from L-3 Communications is installed on the chin of the chopper. The AH-6i made its first flight on 1 May 2014.

The MD530G over the Yuma proving grounds in the United States (Image © MD Helicopters)
See the differences? This is a MD 530G over the Yuma proving grounds in the United States (Image © MD Helicopters)

OH-6 Cayuse
The “mother” of the AH-6i was developed by Hughes in the 1960s as the US Army’s new Light Observation Helicopter, named OH-6 Cayuse but often referred to as “Loach”, and its civilian model number 369. Since then more than 1,400 OH-6s have been produced.

McDonnell Douglas bought Hughes in 1984, with Boeing absorbing McDonnell Douglas in 1997. By then the “Little Birds” were of the MD 500 type, both for military and civilian customers. Since the US Federal laws prevented Boeing of continue with the civilian versions – federal judges were afraid Boeing would become to powerful for Bell or Sikorsky to compete – MD Helicopters became its own company.

No laws prevent MD Helicopters for developing military versions and that is why both Boeing and MD Helicopters produce and export armed newer versions of the legendary Model 390.

© 2015 editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): One of the pre-production versions of the AH-6i (Image © Boeing)