This is the only helicopter at FWAM.
The Bell OH-58 Kiowa is part of a family of single-engine, single-rotor, military helicopters used for observation, utility, training, and direct fire support. The aircraft is closely related to the civilian Bell Model 206A JetRanger. The OH-58 has been in continuous use by the U.S. Army since 1969 and has been operated by many foreign countries.
Development began in 1960 when the United States Navy asked 25 helicopter manufacturers on behalf of the Army for proposals for a Light Observation Helicopter (LOH). Bell Helicopter and 12 others competed for the award. Hiller, Hughes and Bell won the competition.
Bell’s first prototype flew in December 1962. However, it was the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse that was selected in May 1965. Bell redesigned its entry into the Model 206A JetRanger. Hughes could not meet the production demands and bids were soon sought for alternative helicopters. Bell resubmitted and underbid Hughes to win the contract. The civilian Model 206A also became the OH-58A or “Kiowa” in honor of the Native American tribe. The Army has a tradition of naming helicopters after Native American tribes. Over 2,200 aircraft have been produced.
The Army received the first OH-58A Kiowa at a ceremony at Bell Helicopter's Fort Worth plant in May 1969. Two months later, the aircraft began arriving in Vietnam. Approximately 45 OH-58A helicopters were destroyed during the Vietnam War due to combat losses and accidents.
In 1978, OH-58A aircraft began to be converted to the same engine and dynamic components as the OH-58C. In 1992, 76 OH-58As were modified with another engine upgrade, a thermal imaging system, a communications package for law enforcement, enhanced navigational equipment and high skid gear as part of the Army National Guard's (ARNG) Counter-Drug RAID program.OH-58C
Equipped with a more robust engine, the OH-58C was supposed to solve many issues and concerns regarding the Kiowa's power. In addition to the upgraded engine, the OH-58C had unique IR suppression systems mounted on its turbine exhaust. Early "C" models featured flat-panel windscreens as an attempt to reduce glint from the sun, which could give away the aircraft's location to an enemy. The windscreens had a negative effect of limiting the forward view of the crew, a previous strength of the original design.
The aircraft was also equipped with a larger instrument panel, roughly a third bigger than the OH-58A panel, which held larger flight instruments. The panel was also equipped with Night Vision Goggle (NVG) compatible cockpit lighting. The lights inside the aircraft are modified to prevent them from interfering with the aircrews' use of NVGs. OH-58C aircraft were also the first U.S. Army scout helicopter to be equipped with the AN/APR-39 radar detector, a system which allowed the crew to know when there were anti-aircraft radar systems in proximity to the aircraft.
Some OH-58C aircraft were armed with two AIM-92 Stingers. These aircraft are sometimes referred to as OH-58C/S, the "S" referring to the Stinger installation. Called Air-To-Air Stinger (ATAS), the weapon system was intended to provide an air defense capability.
One distinctive feature of operational OH-58s are the knife-like extensions above and below the cockpit which are part of the passive Wire Strike Protection System. It can protect 90% of the frontal area of the helicopter from wire strikes – like power lines -- that can be encountered at low altitudes by cutting the wires before they can entangle the rotor blade or landing skids. The OH-58 was the first helicopter to test this system that was later adopted by the US Army.
We have two Bell OH-58s at the museum. The first is a Bell OH-58A-BF Kiowa that was Army Serial Number 71-20606 (constructor’s number 41457). It is a bare airframe stripped of just about everything.
Our Bell OH-58 on display was delivered in January 1968 and received Army Serial Number 68-16979 (constructors number 40923). It’s Army assignments are still being researched. In 1978 it was converted into an OH-58C by Israeli Aircraft Industries. The conversion upgraded the aircraft with flat "no glint" canopy panels, exhaust thermal signature suppressors, and a more powerful Allison T63-A-720 engine. Bell upgraded a total of 425 OH-58As to the new configuration. The upgraded rotorcraft was designated OH-58C. 150 helicopters in West Germany were upgraded to OH-58C by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI). We think our helicopter was one of these.
It’s last Army assignment was with the 1-212th AVN (training) TRADOC out of Lowe Army Heliport serving Fort Rucker in Alabama. The aircraft carried the marking 79G and had been flown approximately 9,800 hours. The helicopter left military service in 19__ when it was transferred to the Oklahoma Department Of Public Safety. It was painted black and received the new FAA registration number N390HP, but was never flown. The Fort Worth Aviation Museum acquired the aircraft at auction in July 2014 with financial assistance from Bell Helicopter and private donors.
Bell Helicopter built more than half the 67,000+ aircraft constructed in North Texas. This helicopter was constructed during the peak of production – during the Vietnam War.
The aircraft is hugely popular with visitors who can sit in the helicopter and imagine all sorts of flights.