Bell OH-58 Kiowa
Design & Development:

Light Observation Helicopter (LOH)

In October 1960, the Army submitted a request for proposals (RFP) for the Light Observation Helicopter (LOH). Bell, along with 12 other manufacturers (including Fairchild-Hiller and Hughes Tool Co. Aircraft Division), entered the competition. In January 1961, Bell proposed their Model 206 design, which was selected out of the design phase of the Navy-run competition by the Army and designated as the YHO-4A.


Bell produced 5 prototype aircraft in 1962 to submit to the Army for the Test and Evaluation phase, the first prototype making its maiden flight on 8 December 1962. That same year, all aircraft began to be designated according to the new Joint Services designation system, so the prototype aircraft were redesignated as YOH-4A. During the flight testing phase, the power problems of the YOH-4A eliminated it from consideration for selection.

After the failed military contract bid, Bell attempted to market the Model 206, but it didn't fare well at all commercially. Bell's market research showed that it was the body design that customers found mostly unpalatable. When Bell redesigned the body of the airframe to a more sleek and aesthetic design and reintroduced it as the Bell 206A; the JetRanger was born and Bell found they had a commercial success on their hands.

In 1967, the Army reopened the LOH competition for bids because Hughes Tool Co. Aircraft Division couldn't meet the contractual production demands. Bell resubmitted for the program using the Bell 206A. Fairchild-Hiller failed to resubmit their bid with the YOH-5A, which they had successfully marketed as the FH-1100. In the end, Bell underbid Hughes to win the contract and the Bell 206A was designated as the OH-58A. Following the U.S.Army's naming convention for helicopters, the OH-58A was named Kiowa in honor of the Native American tribe.

Advanced Scout Helicopter

In the 1970s, the U.S. Army began evaluating the need to improve the capabilities of their scout aircraft. The OH-58A lacked the power for operations in areas that exposed the aircraft to high altitude and hot temperatures, areas where the ability to acquire targets was a critical deficiency in the tactical warfare capabilities of Army aviation. The power shortcoming caused other issues as the Army anticipated the AH-64A's replacement of the venerable AH-1 in the Attack battalions of the Army. The Army began shopping the idea of an Aerial Scout Program to industry as a prototype exercise to stimulate the development of advanced technological capabilities for night vision and precision navigation equipment. The stated goals of the program included prototypes that would:

...possess an extended target acquisition range capability by means of a long-range stabilized optical subsystem for the observer, improved position location through use of a computerized navigation system, improved survivability by reducing aural, visual, radar, and infrared signatures, and an improved flight performance capability derived from a larger engine to provide compatibility with attack helicopters.

In early March of 1974, the Army created a special task force to develop the system requirements for the Aerial Scout Helicopter program, and in 1975 the task force had formulated the requirements for the Advanced Scout Helicopter (ASH) program. The requirements were formulated around an aircraft capable of performing in day, night, and adverse weather and compatible with all the advanced weapons systems planned for development and fielding into the 1980s. The program was approved by the System Acquisition Review Council and the Army prepared for competitive development to begin the next year. However, as the Army tried to get the program off the ground, Congress declined to provide funding for it in the fiscal year 1977 budget and the ASH Project Manager's Office (PM-ASH) was closed on 30 September 1976.

While no development occurred during the next few years, the program survived as a requirement without funding. On 30 November 1979, the decision was made to defer development of an advanced scout helicopter in favor of pursuing modification of existing airframes in the inventory as a near term scout helicopter (NTSH) option. The development of a mast-mounted sight would be the primary focus to improve the aircraft's ability to perform reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition missions while remaining hidden behind trees and terrain. Both the UH-1 and the OH-58 were evaluated as NTSH candidates, but the UH-1 was dropped from consideration due to its larger size and ease of detection. The OH-58, on the other hand demonstrated a dramatic reduction in detectability with an MMS.

On 10 July 1980, the Army decided that the NTSH would be a competitive modification program based on developments in the commercial helicopter industry, particularly Hughes Helicopters development of the Hughes 500D which provided significant improvements over the OH-6.

Army Helicopter Improvement Program (AHIP)

The Army's decision to acquire the NTSH resulted in the "Army Helicopter Improvement Program (AHIP)". Both Bell Helicopter and Hughes Helicopters redesigned their scout aircraft to compete for the contract. Bell offered a more robust version of the OH-58 in their model 406 aircraft, and Hughes offered an upgraded version of the OH-6, and on 21 September 1981, Bell Helicopter Textron was awarded a development contract. The prototype flew in 1983, and the aircraft entered service in 1985 as the OH-58D.

Initially intended to be used in attack, cavalry and artillery roles, the Army only approved a low initial production level and confined the role of the OH-58D to field artillery observation. The Army also directed that a follow-on test be conducted to further evaluate the aircraft due to perceived deficiencies. On 1 April 1986, the Army formed a task force at Fort Rucker, Alabama, to remedy deficiencies in the AHIP. As a result of those deliberations, the Army had planned to discontinue the OH-58D in 1988 and focus on the LHX, but Congress approved $138 million for expanding the program, calling for the AHIP to operate with the Apache as a hunter/killer team; the AHIP would locate the targets, and the Apache would destroy them in a throwback to the traditional OH-58/AH-1 relationship. However, based on experience with Task Force 118's performance operating armed OH-58D helicopters in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Prime Chance, the Secretary of the Army directed that the aircraft's armament systems be upgraded and that the aircraft be used primarily for scouting and armed reconnaissance.

Wikipedia: OH-58 Kiowa