Military

Boeing to Start Delivering Modernized Little Birds to Night Stalkers

By Brian Garrett-Glaser | May 17, 2019
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RIDLEY PARK, Pa. — Boeing is preparing to start delivery of modernized A/MH-6M helicopters to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), the "Night Stalkers," at Ft. Campbell, Ky.

"One of the things we do uniquely in the vertical lift business is modernize the blades or transmissions," said David Koopersmith, Boeing's vice president and general manager for vertical lift at the company's pre-Paris Air Show media tour.

"When you look at the Advanced Composite Rotor Blade on the [CH-47 Block II] Chinook, which we've already done a number of tests on and is foundational to the Block II Chinook, or at the 'Echo' model [AH-64] Apache where we put a six inch longer blade and modernized the airfoil and tip to give us additional speed and lift, what we've done on the MELB [Mission Enhanced Little Bird] in concert with TAPO [Technology Applications Program Officer] is a modern airfoil and a six inch longer blade that give them tremendous additional speed and lift, and they're delighted," Koopersmith said. "We'll start delivering those in kits to TAPO, as we're also delivering kits that include a new fuselage for all MELBs."

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Beside the new rotor blades, the MELB Block 3.0 upgrade includes a longer tail boom, a new rear gear box, a better ability to fly at high altitudes in hot weather, a 500 pound higher payload capacity, improved flight controls, and an improved cockpit with a full moving map.

Koopersmith said that the in-service Little Bird airfoil is "very old." Boeing work on the new rotor blades for the Little Birds started about 7 to 8 years ago, he said.

U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command, which includes TAPO at Ft. Eustis, Va., has said that two of its top priorities are the MELB Block 3.0 upgrades and the buy of 69 Boeing Block II MH-47G Special Operations Command Chinooks.

The Army's fiscal 2020 budget proposal funds the purchase of nine Block II MH-47Gs, and the Army plans to buy that Block II variant, not the CH-47F Block II, in the out years, Army officials have said. The service had scheduled CH-47F, Block II production to begin in fiscal 2021. Boeing wants Congress to provide long-lead funding for the CH-47F, Block II in fiscal 2020.

The Army had planned to upgrade 542 Chinooks to Block II configuration — its entire fleet, including 473 planned CH-47F and the 69 MH-47G Special Operations variants.

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