Bell OH-58 Kiowa

Bell OH-58 Kiowa
OH-58 Kiowa
OH-58D Kiowa Warrior
Role Observation/scout helicopter
National origin United States
Manufacturer Bell Helicopter
First flight 10 January 1966 (206A)[1]
6 October 1983 (OH-58D)[2]
Introduction May 1969
Primary users United States Army
Australian Army
Republic of China Army
Royal Saudi Land Forces
Produced 1966–1989[note 1]
Number built 2,200+
Unit cost 1990 figures:[2]
US$4.9 million (OH-58D)
US$6.7 million (OH-58D KW)
US$1.3 million (KW retrofit)
Developed from Bell 206

The Bell OH-58 Kiowa is a family of single-engine, single-rotor, military helicopters used for observation, utility, and direct fire support. Bell Helicopter manufactured the OH-58 for the United States Army based on the 206A JetRanger helicopter. The OH-58 has been in continuous use by the U.S. Army since 1969.

The latest model, the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, is primarily operated in an armed reconnaissance role in support of ground troops. The OH-58 has been exported to Austria, Canada, Dominican Republic, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia. It has also been produced under license in Australia.



On 14 October 1960, the United States Navy asked 25 helicopter manufacturers on behalf of the Army for proposals for a Light Observation Helicopter (LOH). Bell Helicopter entered the competition along with 12 other manufacturers, including Hiller Aircraft and Hughes Tool Co., Aircraft Division.[3] Bell submitted the D-250 design, which would be designated as the YHO-4.[4] On 19 May 1961, Bell and Hiller were announced as winners of the design competition.[5][6]

Light Observation Helicopter (LOH)

Bell developed the D-250 design into the Model 206 aircraft, redesignated as YOH-4A in 1962, and produced five prototype aircraft for the Army's test and evaluation phase. The first prototype flew on 8 December 1962.[7] The YOH-4A also became known as the Ugly Duckling in comparison to the other contending aircraft.[7] Following a flyoff of the Bell, Hughes and Fairchild-Hiller prototypes, the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse was selected in May 1965.[8]

When the YOH-4A was rejected by the Army, Bell went about solving the problem of marketing the aircraft. In addition to the image problem, the helicopter lacked cargo space and only provided cramped quarters for the planned three passengers in the back. The solution was a fuselage redesigned to be more sleek and aesthetic, adding 16 cubic feet (0.45 m3) of cargo space in the process.[9] The redesigned aircraft was designated as the Model 206A, and Bell President Edwin J. Ducayet named it the JetRanger denoting an evolution from the popular Model 47J Ranger.

YOH-4A LOH in flight.

In 1967, the Army reopened the LOH competition for bids because Hughes Tool Co. Aircraft Division could not meet the contractual production demands.[10] Bell resubmitted for the program using the Bell 206A.[4] Fairchild-Hiller failed to resubmit their bid with the YOH-5A, which they had successfully marketed as the FH-1100.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[13] 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.[13]

In early March 1974, the Army created a special task force at Fort Knox to develop the system requirements for the Aerial Scout Helicopter program,[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17]

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,[18] and Hughes offered an upgraded version of the OH-6, and on 21 September 1981, Bell Helicopter Textron was awarded a development contract.[19][20] The first prototype flew on 6 October 1983,[2] and the aircraft entered service in 1985 as the OH-58D.[21]

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.[21] 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.[22]

The Secretary of the Army directed instead that the aircraft's armament systems be upgraded, based on experience with Task Force 118's performance operating armed OH-58D helicopters in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Prime Chance, and that the aircraft be used primarily for scouting and armed reconnaissance.[23] The armed aircraft would be known as the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, denoting its new armed configuration. Beginning with the production of the 202nd aircraft (s/n 89-0112) in May 1991, all remaining OH-58D aircraft were produced in the Kiowa Warrior configuration. In January 1992, Bell Helicopter received its first retrofit contract to convert all remaining OH-58D Kiowa helicopters to the Kiowa Warrior configuration.[2]


Mast mounted sight

The OH-58D introduced the most distinctive feature of the Kiowa family — the Mast Mounted Sight (MMS), which resembles a beach ball perched above the rotor system. The MMS by Ball Aerospace has a gyro-stabilized platform containing a TeleVision System (TVS), a Thermal Imaging System (TIS), and a Laser Range Finder/Designator (LRF/D). These new features gave the aircraft the additional mission capability of target acquisition and laser designation in both day or night, and in limited-visibility and adverse weather.[citation needed]

Wire Strike Protection System

One distinctive feature of operational OH-58s are the knife-like extensions above and below the cockpit which is part of the passive Wire Strike Protection System. It can protect 90% of the frontal area of the helicopter from wire strikes that can be encountered at low altitudes by directing wires to the upper or lower blades before they can entangle the rotor blade or landing skids. The OH-58 was the first helicopter to test this system, after which the system was adopted by the US Army for the OH-58 and most of their other helicopters.[24]

Operational history

Major General John Norton, commanding general of the Army Aviation Materiel Command (AMCOM),[25] received the first OH-58A Kiowa at a ceremony at Bell Helicopter's Fort Worth plant in May 1969. Two months later, on 17 August 1969, the first production OH-58A Kiowa helicopters were arriving in Vietnam,[26] accompanied by a New Equipment Training Team (NETT) from the Army and Bell Helicopters.[27] Although the Kiowa production contract replaced the LOH contract with Hughes, the OH-58A did not automatically replace the OH-6A in operation. Subsequently, the Kiowa and the Cayuse would continue operating in the same theater until the end of the war.


On 27 March 1970, an OH-58A Kiowa (s/n 68-16785) was shot down over Vietnam, one of the first OH-58A losses of the war. The pilot, Warrant Officer Ralph Quick, Jr., was flying Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Benoski, Jr. as an artillery spotter. After completing a battle damage assessment for a previous fire mission, the aircraft was damaged by .51 cal (13 mm) machine gun fire and crashed, killing both crew members. Approximately 45 OH-58A helicopters were destroyed in Vietnam due to combat and accidents.[28] One of the last combat losses was of an OH-58A (s/n 68-16888) from A Troop, 3-17th Cavalry, flown by First Lieutenant Thomas Knuckey. On 27 May 1971, Lieutenant Knuckey was also flying a battle damage assessment mission when his aircraft came under machine gun fire and exploded. Knuckey and his observer, Sergeant Philip Taylor, both died in the explosion.[29]

Operation Prime Chance

In early 1988, it was decided that armed OH-58D (AHIP) helicopters from the 118th Aviation Task Force would be phased in to replace the SEABAT (AH-6/MH-6) teams of Task Force 160th to carry out Operation Prime Chance, the escort of oil tankers during the Iran–Iraq War. On 24 February 1988, two AHIP helicopters reported to the Mobile Sea Base Wimbrown VII, and the helicopter team ("SEABAT" team after their callsign) stationed on the barge returned to the United States. For the next few months, the AHIP helicopters on the Wimbrown VII shared patrol duties with the SEABAT team on the Hercules. Coordination was difficult, but despite frequent requests from TF-160, the SEABAT team on the Hercules was not replaced by an AHIP detachment until June 1988.[30] The OH-58D helicopter crews involved in the operation received deck landing and underwater survival training from the Navy.

In November 1988, the number of OH-58D helicopters that supported Task Force 118 was reduced. However, the aircraft continued to operate from the Navy's Mobile Sea Base Hercules, the frigate Underwood, and the destroyer Conolly. OH-58D operations primarily entailed reconnaissance flights at night, and depending on maintenance requirements and ship scheduling, Army helicopters usually rotated from the mobile sea base and other combatant ships to a land base every seven to fourteen days. On 18 September 1989, an OH-58D crashed during night gunnery practice and sank, but with no loss of personnel. When the Mobile Sea Base Hercules was deactivated in September 1989, all but five OH-58D helicopters redeployed to the continental United States.[31]


In 1989, Congress mandated that the Army National Guard would be a player in the country's War on Drugs, enabling them to aid federal, state and local law enforcement agencies with "special congressional entitlements". In response, the Army National Guard Bureau created the Reconnaissance and Aerial Interdiction Detachments (RAID) in 1992, consisting of aviation units in 31 states with 76 specially modified OH-58A helicopters to assume the reconnaissance/interdiction role in the fight against illegal drugs. During 1994, 24 states conducted more than 1,200 aerial counterdrug reconnaissance and interdiction missions, conducting many of these missions at night.[32] Eventually, the program was expanded to cover 32 states and consisting of 116 aircraft, including dedicated training aircraft at the Western Army Aviation Training Site (WAATS) in Marana, Arizona.[33]

The RAID program’s mission has now been expanded to include the war against terrorism and supporting U.S. Border Patrol activities in support of homeland defense. The National Guard RAID units' Area of Operation (AO) is the only one in the Department of Defense that is wholly contained within the borders of the United States.[33]

Operation Just Cause and action in the 1990s

During Operation Just Cause in 1989, a team consisting of an OH-58 and an AH-1 were part of the Aviation Task Force during the securing of Fort Amador in Panama. The OH-58 was fired upon by Panama Defense Force soldiers and crashed 100 yards (91 m) away, in the Bay of Panama. The pilot was rescued but the co-pilot died.[34]

On 17 December 1994, Army Chief Warrant Officers (CWO) David Hilemon and Bobby Hall left Camp Page, South Korea on a routine training mission along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Their flight was intended to be to a point known as Checkpoint 84, south of the DMZ "no-fly zone", but the OH-58C Kiowa strayed nearly four miles (6.4 km) into the Kangwon Province, inside North Korean airspace, due to errors in navigating the snow-covered, rugged terrain. The helicopter was shot down by North Korean troops and CWO Hilemon was killed. CWO Hall was held captive and the North Korean government insisted that the crew had been spying. Five days of negotiations resulted in the North Koreans turning over Hilemon's body to U.S. authorities. The negotiations failed to secure Hall's immediate release. After 13 days in captivity, Hall was freed on 30 December, uninjured.[35][36]

Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq

Shrink wrapped OH-58 Kiowa helicopters to be shipped to Iraq.

The United States Army has employed the OH-58D during Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.[37][38] Due to combat and accidents, over 35 airframes have been lost, with 35 pilots killed.[39]

The age of the helicopters and the loss of airframes resulted in the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program to procure a new aircraft, the Bell ARH-70, which was later canceled in 2008 due to cost overruns.


An OH-58 Kiowa.
Canadian CH-136 Kiowa with 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, 1984
OH-58C operated by the National Test Pilot School at the Mojave Airport. The flat windscreen and the IR suppressors on the exhaust can be clearly seen
OH-58D Kiowa. Note the lack of weapons pylons.
OH-58X Kiowa. Modified OH-58D prototype. Note nose, pitch link cover and engine cowl area.


The OH-58A Kiowa is a 4-place observation helicopter. The Kiowa has two-place pilot seating, although the controls in the left seat are designed to be removed to carry a passenger up front. During its Vietnam development, it was fitted with the M134 Minigun, a 7.62 mm electrically operated machine gun. A total of 74 OH-58A helicopters were delivered to the Canadian Armed Forces as COH-58A and later redesignated as CH-136 Kiowa helicopters.[40]

In 1978, OH-58A aircraft began to be converted to the same engine and dynamic components as the OH-58C.[41] And, in 1992, 76 OH-58A were modified with another engine upgrade, a thermal imaging system, a communications package for law enforcement, enhanced navigational equipment and high skid gear as part of the Army National Guard's (ARNG) Counter-Drug RAID program.

The OH-58B was an export version for the Austrian Air Force.[42] The Australian Government also procured the OH-58A for the Australian Army and Royal Australian Navy as the CAC CA-32. Produced under contract in Australia by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, the CA-32 was the equivalent of the 206B-1 (upgraded engine and longer rotor blades). The first twelve of 56 were built in the U.S. then partially disassembled and shipped to Australia where they were reassembled.[43] Helicopters in the naval fleet were retired in 2000.[43]


Equipped with a more robust engine, the OH-58C was supposed to solve many issues and concerns regarding the Kiowa's power. In addition to the upgraded engine, the OH-58C had unique IR suppression systems mounted on its turbine exhaust. Early "C" models featured flat-panel windscreens as an attempt to reduce glint from the sun, which could give away the aircraft's location to an enemy. The windscreens had a negative effect of limiting the forward view of the crew, a previous strength of the original design.

The aircraft was also equipped with a larger instrument panel, roughly a third bigger than the OH-58A panel, which held larger flight instruments. The panel was also equipped with Night Vision Goggle (NVG) compatible cockpit lighting. The lights inside the aircraft are modified to prevent them from interfering with the aircrews' use of NVGs.[44] OH-58C aircraft were also the first U.S. Army scout helicopter to be equipped with the AN/APR-39 radar detector, a system which allowed the crew to know when there were anti-aircraft radar systems in proximity to the aircraft.[45]

Some OH-58C aircraft were armed with two AIM-92 Stingers. These aircraft are sometimes referred to as OH-58C/S, the "S" referring to the Stinger installation.[46] Called Air-To-Air Stinger (ATAS), the weapon system was intended to provide an air defense capability.


The OH-58D (Bell Model 406) was the result of the Army Helicopter Improvement Program (AHIP). An upgraded transmission and engine gave the aircraft the power it needed for nap-of-the-earth flight profiles, and a four-bladed main rotor made it much quieter than the two-bladed OH-58C. The OH-58D introduced the distinctive Mast-Mounted Sight (MMS) above the rotor system, and a mixed glass cockpit, with traditional instruments identified as "standby" for emergency use.

The Bell 406CS "Combat Scout" was based on the OH-58D (sometimes referred to as the MH-58D). Fifteen aircraft[7][47] were sold to Saudi Arabia.[48] A roof-mounted Saab HeliTOW sight system was opted for in place of the MMS.[49] The 406CS also had detachable weapon hardpoints on each side.

The AH-58D was an OH-58D version operated by Task Force 118 (4th Squadron, 17th Cavalry) and modified with armament in support of Operation Prime Chance. The weapons and fire control systems would become the basis for the Kiowa Warrior. AH-58D is not an official DOD aircraft designation, but is used by the Army in reference to these aircraft.[50][51][52]

The Kiowa Warrior, sometimes referred to by its acronym KW, is the armed version of the OH-58D Kiowa. The main difference that distinguishes the Kiowa Warrior from the original AHIP aircraft is a universal weapons pylon found mounted on both sides of the aircraft. These pylons are capable of carrying combinations of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, air-to-air Stinger (ATAS) missiles, 7-shot 2.75 in (70 mm) Hydra-70 rocket pods,[53] and an M296 .50 caliber machine gun. The Kiowa Warrior upgrade also includes improvements in available power, navigation, communication and survivability, as well as modifications to improve the aircraft's deployability.[54]


The OH-58F is the designation for planned upgrade of the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior to extend the design's service until 2025. The planned Cockpit and Sensor Upgrade Program (CASUP)[55] features a nose-mounted targeting and surveillance system rather than the mast-mounted sensor used on the OH-58D.[56] The AAS-53 Common Sensor Payload includes an advanced infrared camera, color Electro-Optical camera, and image intensifier. Additional enhancements include a Force Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) display screen and dual-channel, full-authority digital engine-controller.[55] The new model will have Level 2 Manned-Unmanned teaming, increased armor protection, common missile warning system, and dual-independent advanced moving maps.


The OH-58X was a modification of the fourth development OH-58D (s/n 69-16322) with partial stealth features and a chin-mounted McDonnell-Douglas Electronics Systems turret as a night piloting system; including a Kodak FLIR system with a 30-degree field of view. Avionics systems were consolidated and moved to the nose, making room for a passenger seat in the rear. No aircraft were produced.[2]


OH-58 Kiowa Operators (former operators in red)
Australian Army Kiowa
Bundesheer OH-58
  • Bundesheer
    • Luftunterstützungsgeschwader[60]
 Republic of China (Taiwan)
 Dominican Republic
 Saudi Arabia
  • Royal Saudi Land Forces[48]
    • 1st Aviation Battalion
 United States
  • United States Army (current)
    • Eagle Flight Detachment, Fort Irwin
    • Eagle Flight Detachment, Fort Polk
    • Reconnaissance and Aerial Interdiction Detachments (RAID), 32 states
    OH-58D Kiowa Warrior
    • 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment
    • 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment
    • 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment
    • 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment
    • 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment
    • 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment
    • 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment
    • 6th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment
    • 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment
    • C Company, 185th Aviation Brigade



Data from U.S. Army Aircraft Since 1947[75]

General characteristics



OH-58D Kiowa Warrior

Bell OH-58D KIOWA.png

Data from Jane's,[2] U.S. Army Aircraft Since 1947[75]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2 pilots
  • Length: 42 ft 2 in (12.85 m)
  • Main rotor diameter: 35 ft 0 in (10.67 m)
  • Height: 12 ft 1058 in (3.93 m)
  • Main rotor area: 14.83 ft2 (1.38 m2)
  • Empty weight: 3,829 lb (1,737 kg)
  • Gross weight: 5,500 lb (2,495 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce T703-AD-700A or 250-C30R/3 turboshaft, 650 hp (485 kW) each


  • Maximum speed: 149 mph (241 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: 127 mph (204 km/h)
  • Range: 345 miles (555 km)
  • Service ceiling: 15,000 ft (4,575 m)


See also

  • Kimberly Hampton, an OH-58D pilot who was the first US female military pilot to be shot down and killed as a result of hostile fire.
Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists


  1. ^ The last new build aircraft were delivered to the U.S. Army in 1989. The subsequent arming of the AHIP and the System Safety Enhancement Program (SSEP) caused aircraft to be steadily refitted until 1999.


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  • Spenser, Jay P. "Bell Helicopter". Whirlybirds, A History of the U.S. Helicopter Pioneers. University of Washington Press, 1998. ISBN 0295980583.
  • World Aircraft information files Brightstar publishing London File 424 sheet 2

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.

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