WASHINGTON–Boeing announced that the AH-6i light-attack/reconnaissance helicopter made its first flight in September with a new avionics system that leverages software from the Apache Longbow helicopter.
“The AH-6i “was developed with virtually zero risk,” says Jeffrey Shelton, former Apache pilot and domestic rotorcraft business development manager at Boeing. From the time “we started working on the aircraft till its first flight spanned only seven months.”
The airframe is based on one previously deployed with U.S. Special Forces, Shelton says. Shelton made his comments during a briefing at the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition last month.
The aircraft was designed for international military users and turned around very quickly by picking and choosing avionics capabilities from the Apache Longbow Block III upgrade, Shelton says. Since the Apache Block III and AH-6i avionics suites are based on an open architecture, “we essentially were able to just take individual lines of [Block III] software code that met the requirements for the AH-6i,” he says.
One thing it did not take from the Apache Block III was the Level IV UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) capability, Shelton says. It is not something the U.S. is comfortable providing to an international military, he adds.
Level IV UAV enables the helicopter crew to control the navigation of assigned UAVs, Shelton says.
“We envision similar configurations and requirements for the next version of the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH),” Shelton says. The ARH program was canceled about a year ago due to cost overruns.
The Army will issue a new set of requirements, but no one is sure as to when, Shelton says. “We feel that even if the AH-6i does not meet the exact requirements, it will be pretty close and will not need major changes, he adds.
For the AH-6i, Boeing engineers also added more cabin room, by taking out part of the fuselage, Shelton says. If for some reason the ARH requires more fuel capacity, “our engineers are confident they can adjust as they have done this before,” he adds.
The AH-6i program was launched by Boeing at the 2008 AUSA meeting. The AH-6i features a flexible mission configuration, an integrated digital cockpit, an integrated and qualified weapons system, and a communications package that enables connectivity with other aircraft and ground stations.
Other enhancements include redesigned main rotor blades for high-altitude/high-temperature operations with 600 pounds of added payload; full-color, touch-screen multifunction displays; and engine infrared suppression. Boeing engineers will produce the AH-6i at the company’s facility in Mesa.