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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Boeing Offers AAS Competitor to Military Forces in the Middle East

By Douglas Nelms

Boeing AH-6i “Little Bird” soaks up some sun in between demonstrations at the Dubai Airshow. Photo by Douglas Nelms

Boeing is promoting its AH-6i to meet reconnaissance/attack helicopter requirements for military forces in the Middle East. The AH-6i is the aircraft Boeing is entering in the U.S. Army’s Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) competition. Mike Burke, director of attack helicopters business development for Boeing, said that the AH-6i currently meets all the requirements that are expected to be announced for the U.S. Army’s AAS program, including the ability to hover out of ground effect at 6,000 ft. at 95 degrees F, or “6K/95.”

Boeing demonstrated the AH-6i at the Dubai Airshow in late November. The manufacturer has conducted demonstrations, including live firing, for the UAE, Jordan “and a couple of others,” Burke said. The first international order for the AH-6i is expected soon, with Jordan and Saudi Arabia as the possible customer. Boeing had been expecting an order from Iraq, but that went to Bell’s IA407. Burke said that there are roughly 2,000 helicopters in the attack/reconnaissance class that need to be replaced in the Middle East, and the AH-6i would fit that requirement easily. The AH-6i is the export version of the A/MH-6 Mission Enhanced Little Bird, using the Rolls Royce 250-C30R/3 engine rated at 650 shp, plus a six-bladed rotor system to allow the drive train to handle the extra power.

A major element of the AH-6i’s success is its glass cockpit and mission computer capabilities, Burke said. The aircraft shares 83 percent of the software currently used on the AH-64 Apache Block III, including the capability to go to Level IV for UAV control. “We haven’t demonstrated Level IV yet on the AH-6i,” Burke said. “But since [the AH-6i] shares 83 percent of the Block III’s software, it’s just a matter of putting it on and demonstrating it, then taking it through the certification process.” However, he noted that at this time, Boeing would not be allowed to sell Level IV capabilities to foreign customers.

He also noted that all the avionics are located in the nose of the aircraft, making them easy to access for maintenance and leaving the cabin free for other options. All the avionics are military qualified, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) and ITAR (international trade and armament regulations) compliant, “So we don’t have to have a special waiver from the U.S. government to sell this.”

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