Warplanes: May 24, 2005


The manufacturer of the MD-500 helicopter has developed an unmanned version for the U.S. Army. This UAV helicopter is now  going to Iraq to serve as a communications satellite substitute. The MD-500 series machines also serve in the military as the OH-6 (a two seat reconnaissance helicopter) and the MH-6 (a SOCOM bird that can carry six commandoes on its skids.) The UAV version, called the Unmanned Little Bird (ULB), can carry half a ton of supplies to troops, or operate as a reconnaissance aircraft. The use of ULB for taking in supplies, and/or removing casualties, reduces the risk to pilots. You still need a crew, however, to operate the ULB remotely. The MD-530F model is used for the ULB conversion. The MD-530F is a 1.5 ton helicopter with a max cruising speed of 245 kilometers hour and a normal range of 600 kilometers. It is one of the more recent models in the very successful MD-500 line of helicopters. Over 5,000 of these helicopters have been manufactured for military and civilian use. The ULBs cost $5.5 million each, and the army is buying two of them to be used with the 101st Airborne division when it returns to Iraq later this year. The ULB will carry communications gear that operates like a communications satellite, enabling the army to get more satellite commo capability for less money. When operating like this, the OLB can stay in the air for eight hours at a time, at an altitude of 15,000 feet. This Summer, the ULB will undergo firing tests with Hellfire missiles and other weapons. The ULB will also have vidcams on board, and targeting systems that will enable it to locate targets below for other weapons. Without the satellite communications gear, the ULB can operate as an armed scout helicopter. The ULB can be used for high-risk missions that would be very dangerous, or even suicidal, for a human crew. 




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