The OH-58 Kiowa was developed based on the civil Bell Model 206A Jet Ranger to meet the US Army’s requirement
Although not as famous as the UH-60 Blackhawk or AH-64 Apache, Kiowa was the U.S. Army’s workhorse for nearly 50 years. Since its first introduction in 1969, more than 2,200 Kiowas have been produced, and by July 2020 the last helicopters were decommissioned. Earlier in March 2020 the US Army selected the Bell 360 Invictus and Sikorsky Raider X as part of the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft program to fill the capability gap left by the retirement of the OH-58.
The OH-58 Kiowa was developed based on the civil Bell Model 206A Jet Ranger to meet the US Army’s requirement for a helicopter capable of observation duties, as well as support of attack helicopters and direction of artillery fire. The OH-58 was in continuous U.S. Army service from 1969 to 2017, when it was replaced in these roles by the Boeing AH-64 Apache and Eurocopter UH-72 Lakota.
The helicopter has a length of 12.85 m, a height of 3.93 m, an empty weight of 1.7 tons, and a gross weight of 2.5 tons. The cockpit is well organized forward with a side-by-side 2-seat configuration: pilot and co-pilot. The cockpit provides for excellent forward viewing thanks to its large forward windscreens and removable automobile-style hinged side doors. To the rear of the cockpit is the passenger cabin for an additional two or three personnel or two medical litters.
The engine is mounted atop and to the rear of the passenger cabin, powering the main rotor blades. The OH-58 Kiowa is powered by a Rolls-Royce T703-AD-700A turboshaft 650 hp engine, for a top speed of 149 mph, a cruise speed of 127 mph, a range of 161 mi, and a Service ceiling of 15,000 ft.
The Kiowa doesn’t have a standard powered wheeled chassis, but instead uses a rather traditional and simplistic heavy duty landing skid system. When it was initially introduced in the Vietnam War, the OH-58A was armed with either an M134 Minigun or M129 40mm automatic grenade launcher.
The helicopter was upgraded in the 1980s under the “Army Helicopter Improvement Program,” and the OH-58D featured an upgraded digital cockpit that included Multi-Function Displays for both cockpit positions and was the first U.S. Army helicopter to feature an “all glass cockpit.” The OH-58D “Kiowa Warrior” was also equipped with a variety of more powerful armament, which included AGM-114 “Hellfire” guided anti-tank missiles, Hydra 70 series high-explosive unguided rockets, 12.7mm heavy caliber machine guns.
The OH-58D introduced the most distinctive feature of the Kiowa family — the Mast Mounted Sight, which resembles a beach ball perched above the rotor system. These new features gave the aircraft the additional mission capability of target acquisition and laser designation in day or night, limited-visibility and adverse weather.