On May 1, Boeing started test flying the first production AH-6i light-attack/reconnaissance helicopter as it prepares to begin deliveries to its launch customer, the Saudi Arabia National Guard, which signed a foreign military sales deal for 36 of the aircraft last year.
An improved version of the A/MH-6 Little Bird flown by U.S. Army Special Forces and aimed at international customers, the AH-6i incorporates mission-equipment technologies from the Army’s AH-6E Apache combat helicopter, providing an integrated precision night reconnaissance and attack capability.
The AH-6i is equipped with a nose-mounted L-3 Wescam MX-15 turret with three sensors and three lasers. Laser illuminator, eye safe rangefinder and tactical designator are also installed. In development testing for the armed role, the prototype has fired Hellfire missiles, 2.75-in. rockets, .50-caliber guns and 7.62 mm mini-guns.
Looking for customers beyond Saudi Arabia, Boeing is targeting countries operating some 1,500-2,000 older Bell AH-1 Cobras and MD Helicopters MD500s, 520s and 530s.
Describing the early Cobras as “the aircraft industry has forgotten,” Mike Burke, Boeing’s director of attack helicopter development, says, “Many were donated by the U.S. to the cash-strapped countries now flying them. They can get parts but can’t upgrade their capabilities. They can’t buy mission computers, and the aircraft are all daylight-only.”