Fort Worth, Texas-based Bell Helicopter has delivered the initial OH-58 “A2D” wartime replacement cabin to the U.S. Army. During a conference call on June 30 with reporters, Army and Bell officials provided an update on the progress of the program, which converts existing OH-58A models with a 3,500-lb max gross weight to a D model, with a max gross weight of 5,500 lbs.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Matthew Hannah, incoming Kiowa Warrior product manager, noted that the cabin “will be the foundation” for producing the wartime replacement aircraft. The prototype will be shipped to Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD) for re-installation of the avionics and other dynamic components. Bell performed the first cabin conversion at its Xworx rapid prototyping facility in Arlington, Texas. The remaining 18 conversions under the existing $76.2-million contract will take place at Bell’s military assembly center in Amarillo.
According to Jim Schultz, Bell Helicopter program manager for Army programs, handover of the remaining 18 cabins will start in January 2012, with one delivered per month afterward, starting in March 2012.
Hannah said that the Army spends about six months depopulating the aircraft before sending it to Bell, then CCAD puts in around six months for final assembly and post-production modifications after it returns from Bell. “Total [conversion] time from nose to tail is approximately two years, currently.” That timeframe includes about 12 months in Amarillo—a number that is likely to decrease, according to Schultz. “Obviously, as we gain experience and go down the learning curve, that will shorten up considerably,” he said. “We’ve just started the effort again and we’ve moved that work up to Amarillo, so they’re getting used to working on OH-58 aircraft, where they’ve been working on H-1s and V-22s in the past.”
Hannah explained that of the 368 helicopters in the Kiowa Warrior fleet, a total of 40 are coming up for replacement. After the 18 cabins under the existing contract, the Army has yet to make a decision about whether to continue converting A models to D or go with a new metal option.
“That is pre-decisional, based on a lot of efforts,” he said, and Bell is in the process of providing options to help the Army's decision.
“We’ve asked for quotes from our suppliers to get an idea how much it would cost to go to all new metal,” Schultz added. “We think it’s a good option to follow, we’ve been providing that information to the Army to facilitate their decision process. But we stand ready to go to new metal at any time the Army desires to do so.”
Look for an in-depth feature article on the A2D conversion in the September 2011 issue of Rotor & Wing.
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