Kiowa Warrior Helicopter Display Recalls Fallen Aviators
July 14, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Even though it’s the most successful helicopter in the U.S. military, the history of the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior carries with it the spirit of 49 aviators.
Both the helicopter and those aviators " all of whom have perished flying the Kiowa Warrior in defense of the nation " were memorialized Friday during a dedication ceremony for the newest helicopter static display that now stands sentinel to the headquarters of the Program Executive Office for Aviation.
“This is the most successful helicopter program in the Army, no doubt,” said retired Lt. Gen. William “Bud” Forster, who was the first program executive officer for aviation and who served as a program manager for the Kiowa Warrior.
The Kiowa Warrior " which has the highest optempo of any aircraft in the Army and probably the entire military, and which has flown more than 690,000 hours in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (with more than 750,000 hours for all missions) -- was first introduced in Vietnam in 1969 as a scout helicopter with its mission to run reconnaissance on targets for other aircraft. From the beginning, the helicopter, manufactured by Bell Helicopter, was below budget in cost and quickly “outperformed every expectation,” Forster said.
In 1987-89 during Operation Prime Chance, the Kiowa was upgraded for armed support in the Persian Gulf. In 1991, it was given a better weapons system to increase attack capabilities and, as the Army embraced its combat potential, it was armed with a .50-caliber machine gun and four Hellfire missiles.
Built to fly 96 hours every three months and then be rebuilt, the Kiowa has put up impressive combat hours during the 10 years it has flown missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, it has flown more than 100 hours per airframe per month, and has had a mission capable rate of above 84 percent, the highest of any Army aviation rotary wing aircraft.
“In Afghanistan, it is a different event and a different type of flying. It’s a tough bird,” Forster said. “It’s an infantryman’s helicopter. In Iraq, commanders canceled night patrols when there was no Kiowa helicopter (to provide air defense). That’s how important and how precious this aircraft is.”
Forster said that the contractor team that Bell Helicopter put together in the 1960s to work with the Army in developing and manufacturing the Kiowa Warrior “was absolutely essential to its success and something I’ve never seen again … (And then equipping the Kiowa Warrior with attack capabilities) was the best team effort I’ve ever seen between the Army and industry.”
The retired general congratulated today’s Kiowa Warrior employees, many of which were crowded around the event’s tents, for their continued team effort on behalf of Soldiers.
“All of you have taken what we did and turned it into the best scout helicopter in the world, the best armed helicopter in the world,” he said. “I wish I could come back and be your program manager again.”
The display, which was the idea of Col. Robert Grigsby, the project manager for Armed Scout Helicopters, will allow program executive office employees as well as visitors to “take pride in the sacrifices and victory we’ve had on the battlefield and remember those who perished for us in defense of this nation,” Mike Herbst, deputy project manager for Armed Scout Helicopters, said.
Grigsby’s first order when he came to the program executive office for aviation a year ago was that “we would put a Kiowa Warrior on prominent display. His second order was that it would be dedicated to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice training and fighting in this aircraft,” Herbst continued.
Those 49 aviators who have died while flying the helicopter were recognized in a roll call on Friday followed by the playing of Taps. Beside the Kiowa Warrior display there is a plaque listing their names.
“It’s an honor to be here to acknowledge their sacrifice,” said Lt. Col. Mathew Hannah, who was named the new product manager for Kiowa Warrior earlier Friday.
Kiowa Warrior’s success on the battlefield is directly related to “a group of great Americans back here that work every day to give this program their passion in support of Soldiers … What happens in the field every day is enabled by Army aviation,” said Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, the program executive officer for aviation.