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Bell OH-58 Kiowa: Light Observation Military Helicopter

The helicopter for today is a military helicopter that was built initially for the service of the US Army and is developed by the Bell Helicopters back in early 1960s. The name of this military helicopter is Bell OH-58 Kiowa which was the single engine and single rotor helicopter for serving the purposes of direct fire support, observation and utility. Bell Helicopters designed the Bell OH-58 Kiowa based on their model helicopter designated as Model 206A JetRanger. Since its introduction in 1969, the Bell OH-58 Kiowa is still in continued service of US Army with its successor, in its own role, the Boeing AH-64 Apache.

The latest variant of the Bell OH-58 Kiowa is known by the name Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior which is currently being operated for reconnaissance missions for support of ground troops. In addition to the US Army, the Bell OH-58 Kiowa is also exported to several other militaries of the world inlcuding the following.

  • Austria
  • Canada
  • Croatia
  • Dominican Republic
  • Taiwan
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Greece

As for Australia, they were given the license to manufacture the Bell OH-58 Kiowa locally.

MMS (Mass Mounted Sight) of Bell OH-58 Kiowa:-

Among the Kiowa family of helicopters, the most distinctive feature of the Bell OH-58 Kiowa is its MMS (Mass Mounted Sight). This system is in resemblance with the beach ball that is placed over the rotor system. This MMS developed by the Ball Aerospace & technologies contains the gyro-stabilized platform which contains the following technologies.

  • TVS (Television System)
  • TIS (Thermal Imaging System)
  • LRF/D (Laser Range Finder/Designator)

These features combined allowed for the Bell OH-58 Kiowa to have increased capabilities for laser designation and the target acquisition during night and day times even in the bad weather and limited visibility.

WSP (Wire Strike Protection) System of Bell OH-58 Kiowa:-

Another distinctive feature of the Bell OH-58 Kiowa is the WSP (War Strike Protection) system of the Bell OH-58 Kiowa which are its knife-like extensions that are on the upper and lower section of the cockpit. This allows for the Bell OH-58 Kiowa to have a 90 percent more protected front in case of wire strikes which any helicopter can encounter during the low altitudes. The Bell OH-58 Kiowa holds the title for being the first helicopter on which this feature was tested and since then has been incorporated in almost every US Army helicopter.

Powerplant & Performance:-

Power is delivered to the Bell OH-58 Kiowa via its single Rolls Royce T703-AD-700A turboshaft engine. This engine generates about 650 horsepower which allows for this military helicopter to attain a maximum speed of about 149 mph while the cruise speed is recorded at 127 mph. the maximum range limit of the Bell OH-58 Kiowa is approximately 161 miles while at a service ceiling of 15000 feet.


The Bell OH-58 Kiowa offers the 2 hardpoints of pylons which are equipped with necessary provisions for carrying the combination of following armaments.

  • A LAU-68 rocket launcher which can carry in it 7 of the Hydra 70 2.75-inch rockets
  • 2 of the AGM-114 Hellfire Missiles
  • The aircraft is either equipped with a single 50 caliber M3P or the M296 machine gun

Entering Military Service:-

The very first Bell OH-58 Kiowa helicopter was received by the Major General John Norton, who was the command general of the AMCOM (Army Aviation Material Command) back in May of 1969. 2 months following that, the first serial production helicopters were dispatched to Vietnam along with the NETT (New Equipment Training Team) of the US Army and the Bell Helicopter.

Losses in Vietnam War:-

Back on March 27th 1070 the very first Bell OH-58 Kiowa flown by pilot named Warrant Officer Ralph Quick Jr. was shot down in Vietnam War. That helicopter was transporting the artillery spotter of US Army named Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Benoski. The helicopter sustained 13mm machine gun fires and crashed thus killing the 2 crew members.

A total of 45 Bell OH-58 Kiowa helicopters were lost during Vietnam War during accidents and combat.

Operation Prime Chance during Iran-Iraq War:-

In the early 1988, the helicopters of the 118th Aviation Task Force were replaced with armed Bell OH-58Ds to carry out the Operation Prime Chaos. This operation was carried out during the Iraq-Iran War to serve the role of escort for the oil tankers.

Service during Gulf War:-

During the Gulf War’s Operation Desert Storm, the US Army deployed nearly 115 of the OH-58D Super Kiowa helicopters for carrying pout multiple combat missions which proved a success for the ground troops’ missions.

In addition to this, the Bell OH-58 Kiowa also flew during the Operations like Desert Storm and Desert Shield for a total of 9000 hours and had a success rate of 92 percent.

Role of Bell OH-58 Kiowa for RAID (Reconnaissance and Aerial Interdiction):-

During the War on Drugs in USA back in 1989, the US national Congress mandated the Army National Guard to take part in this war. This allowed for them to aid the state, federal as well as local law enforcements agencies in their missions. In response to this new mandate, the National Guard Bureau of US Army created RAID (Reconnaissance and Aerial Interdiction Detachments).

For this purpose nearly 76 of the modified Bell OH-58 Kiowas were used for the interdiction and reconnaissance roles against the illegal drug traffickers. The program was then expanded due to its success and the helicopters used reached the number of 116 aircraft.

Other Operators:-

Following the low operational and maintenance costs of the Bell OH-58 Kiowa, the aircraft was sought out by many of the other nations across the world. The ones that received the delivery of these Bell OH-58 Kiowa helicopters are as follows.

  • Austria
  • Canada
  • Taiwan
  • Dominican Republic
  • Mexico
  • Saudi Arabia
  • UAE

As for the ones that are used by Australia, they were built at home under the license.

Current Status:-

The Bell OH-58 Kiowa was at one point was being replaced by the LOHs like the Bell ARH-70 and the RAH-66 Comanche. But both of these helicopter programs were cancelled by the US government due to their massive costs and numerous project delays. The new modernization program is thought to create the model OH-58F which will see the Bell OH-58 Kiowa to serve the US Army in its roles well until 2025 as per sources but at the moment about 300 of the OH-58D helicopters are expected to retire from US Army soon.

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Written by Crew Daily

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