|Little Bird |
MH-6X MELB / AH-6I
|A Boeing AH-6 on static display at the 2010 Singapore Airshow|
|Role||Light attack/reconnaissance helicopter|
|National origin||United States|
|Manufacturer||Boeing Rotorcraft Systems|
|First flight||ULB: September 8, 2004 |
MELB: September 20, 2006
|Developed from||MD Helicopters MH-6 Little Bird|
The Boeing AH-6 is a series of light helicopter gunships based on the MH-6 Little Bird and MD 500 family. Developed by Boeing Rotorcraft Systems, these include the Unmanned Little Bird (ULB) demonstrator, the A/MH-6X Mission Enhanced Little Bird (MELB), and the proposed AH-6I and AH-6S.
Design and development
In April 2006, Boeing used the ULB to demonstrate the ability of another helicopter, in this case an AH-64 Apache to remotely control the ULB's weapons payload as a part of Boeing's Airborne Manned/Unmanned System Technology Demonstration (AMUST-D) program. For the initial test, the Apache Longbow was on the ground, while the ULB was airborne several miles away and Hellfire missiles were fired from the ULB by a tester sitting at the co-pilot's station in the Apache. Both aircraft are equipped with tactical common data link equipment and technologies manufactured by L-3 Communications.
The ULB Demonstrator first flew in the unmanned mode on June 30, 2006 from the United States Army's Yuma Proving Ground, flying a pre-programmed 20-minute armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission around the facility. All previous flights during the 450 flight hour engineering development phase had a safety pilot on board, although the aircraft was typically flown remotely from the ground.
With the successes of the ULB, Boeing incorporated its technologies into an A/MH-6, designating it the A/MH-6X. On September 20, 2006, the first A/MH-6X lifted off on its maiden flight from Boeing Rotorcraft Systems' Mesa, Arizona facility with a pilot on board. While the ULB Demonstrator had a payload of 2,400 pounds, the MELB has an additional 1,000 pounds payload capacity. The A/MH-6X is similar to the A/MH-6M, but includes a prototype glass cockpit and a number of upgrades to the electronics and avionics. The A/MH-6X is an optionally manned or unmanned aircraft which is a hybrid of the ULB demonstrator and the A/MH-6M mission-enhanced Little Bird which is used by US Army Special Operations Command. Boeing funded the development program itself; it intends to market the aircraft for both military and homeland security roles within the U.S. and internationally. The aircraft is estimated to cost US$2 million. The systems related to the unmanned flight capabilities have also been designed to be able to be installed in any other helicopter as well, including the Apache. An Unmanned Little Bird performed a fully autonomous flight in June 2010, including avoiding obstacles using LIDAR.
In 2009, it was reported that Boeing was working on the "AH-6S Phoenix" for the US Army's restarted ARH program, named Armed Aerial Scout. The AH-6S design is stretched by 15 inches (380 mm) to allow room for other ARH crew shot down in combat to be recovered. The aircraft also would feature an extended aerodynamic nose to house avionics hardware. AH-6S cockpit and main rotor composite blades are to be based the AH-64D Block III. The AH-6S will have an improved tail rotor and more powerful Rolls-Royce 250-CE30 engine.
The AH-6i is the export version of the AH-6S. The AH-6i first flew on September 16, 2009. Jordan has expressed interest in ordering the AH-6i in May 2010. In October 2010 Saudi Arabia requested 36 AH-6i aircraft with related equipment and weapons from the United States through a Foreign Military Sale. Kaman Corporation is developing a retrofittable graphite epoxy rotorblade for the AH-6.
In summer 2011, an H-6U performed autonomous landings on a moving truck bed for French companies Thales and DCNS for France's General Directorate for Armament, in preparation for sea trials on a French frigate in 2012.
In October 2012, the AH-6i completed a flight demonstration for the U.S. Army in anticipation of the Armed Aerial Scout program. While the AH-6i is aimed at international customers, Boeing intends to offer it for the program.
In December 2012, Boeing demonstrated the Unmanned Little Bird version of the AH-6 to the South Korean Army. The aircraft flew autonomously for 25 minutes to demonstrate the unmanned system's capabilities that can be integrated into Army MD 500 Defender helicopters.
In September 2013, Aurora Flight Sciences and Boeing offered the H-6U Little Bird for the U.S. Marine Corps unmanned lift/ISR capability competition. Boeing, working as a subcontractor, is flying the Little Bird without human input near Manassas, Virginia, but with a pilot on board to comply with Federal Aviation Administration regulations. The Little Bird has an endurance of 12 hours and carries a maximum mission payload of 2,400 lb (1,090 kg). The H-6U is competing against the unmanned Kaman K-MAX, which has a usable external payload of 6,000 lb (2,720 kg) and has been used in theater to resupply Marines. Evaluations are to begin in February 2014 at Marine Corps Base Quantico.
- Unmanned Little Bird (ULB)
- UAV demonstrator
- A/MH-6X Mission Enhanced Little Bird (MELB)
- Version of the AH-6S for export.
- AH-6S Phoenix
- Proposed version of the AH-6 for the US Army's Armed Aerial Scout program.
- Royal Jordanian Air Force - 18 ordered.
- Saudi Arabian Army - 36 ordered, deliveries to start in 2014.
- Crew: 1-2
- Capacity: 5 total
- Length: 32 ft 7 in (9.94 m)
- Rotor diameter: 27 ft 4 in (8.33 m)
- Height: 8 ft 9 in (2.48 m)
- Disc area: 587.5 sq ft (54.6 m²)
- Empty weight: 1,591 lb (722 kg)
- Max. takeoff weight: 3,100 lb (1,610 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × One Allison 250-C30 250-C30 turboshaft, 425 shp (317 kW) takeoff power (derated)
- Maximum speed: 152 knots (175 mph, 282 km/h)
- Cruise speed: 135 kn (155 mph, 250 km/h)
- Range: 232 nmi (267 mi, 430 km)
- Service ceiling: 18,700 ft (5,700 m)
- Rate of climb: 2,070 ft/min (10.5 m/s)
- 2× LAU-68D/A 7-tubes rocket pods firing 2.75 in (70 mm) Hydra 70 rocket projectiles
- U.S. helicopter armament subsystems
- Hughes OH-6 Cayuse
- MD Helicopters MD 500
- McDonnell Douglas MD 500 Defender
- MD Helicopters MH-6 Little Bird
- Bell OH-58 Kiowa
- Bell ARH-70
- Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout
- Boeing A160 Hummingbird
- "Boeing Unveils Low-Cost, Versatile 'Little Bird' That Can Fly Manned or as UAV". Boeing, October 25, 2004. Accessed: June 30, 2011.
- "Boeing Apache and Unmanned Little Bird Demonstrator Test Expands UAV Control". Boeing, April 12, 2006. Accessed: June 30, 2011.
- "Boeing Unmanned Little Bird Demonstrator Helicopter Flies Unmanned for First Time". Boeing, July 12, 2006. Accessed: June 30, 2011.
- Kress, Adam. "Boeing's Little Bird flys high by remote control". Phoenix Business Journal, January 28, 2005. Accessed August 27, 2008.
- "Boeing Manned/Unmanned Light Helicopter Makes First Flight". Boeing, October 9, 2006. Accessed: June 30, 2011.
- "Army Technology-Unmanned Little Bird project". army-technology.com
- Spice, Byron. Researchers Help Develop Full-Size Autonomous Helicopter Carnegie Mellon, 6 July 2010. Retrieved: 19 July 2010.
- Koski, Olivia. "In a First, Full-Sized Robo-Copter Flies With No Human Help". Wired, 14 July 2010. Retrieved: 19 July 2010.
- "Boeing's new Phoenix rises from ARH ashes". Flight International, 7 January 2009.
- "Boeing Offers Army Two ARH Alternatives". Aviation Week, 8 January 2009.
- "Boeing AH-6i Light Attack/Reconnaissance Helicopter Makes 1st Flight". Boeing, October 7, 2009.
- "Jordan to buy AH-6is". AirForces Monthly, 14 May 2010.
- "Saudi Arabia – AH-64D APACHE, UH-60M BLACKHAWK, AH-6i Light Attack, and MD-530F Light Turbine Helicopters". US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, 20 October 2010.
- Bruno, Michael. "U.S. To Sell F-15s With AESA To Saudi Arabia". Aviation Week, 21 October 2010.
- TRAUTVETTER, Chad. "Kaman Aerospace’s Unmanned K-Max Reports for Duty" AIN online, 13 February 2012. Retrieved: 22 August 2012.
- Thisdell, Dan. Thales, DCNS ready sea borne trials of unmanned rotorcraft Flight Global/ElectronicsWeekly, 15 November 2011. Accessed: 25 November 2011.
- Thales completes successful flight demonstration for full automatic landing and deck landing of one-ton class rotary wing UAVs Thales, 14 June 2011. Accessed: 25 November 2011.
- "Boeing demonstrates AH-6i for US Army". Flightglobal.com, 23 October 2012.
- Little Bird demo for the Republic of Korea. SUASNews.com, 14 December 2012
- Unmanned Little Bird (ULB) Helicopter UAV, United States of America army-technology.com
- USMC Unmanned Lift Competition Taking Shape - Defensenews.com, 25 September 2013
- Jordanian AH-6i - Shepardmedia.com, May 9, 2012
- Frawley, Gerard. The International Directory of Civil Aircraft, 2003-2004, p. 155. Aerospace Publications Pty Ltd, 2003. ISBN 1-875671-58-7.
- MD 530F Overview, MD Helicopters.
- MD 530F Performance Specifications. MD Helicopters.
- Boeing Announces New Rotorcraft Program: AH-6, Boeing, 7 October 2008.
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