The distinctive and venerable OH-58 Kiowa helicopter, mothballed and grounded in the dry desert of Arizona, after being retired from U.S. Army service with almost 50 years of service, is finding its wings again in Greece.
For an Army aviator, this was also a chance to get back into the seat of a historic platform and to share his knowledge and flying skills to a new generation of Hellenic pilots.
“I lucked out with this (foreign military sales) case as I was an instructor pilot in the Kiowa prior to switching to the Apache,” Chief Warrant Officer 3 John Meadows, a military aviation trainer from the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, said of his selection.
Chief Meadows is assigned to USASAC’s Security Assistance Training Management Organization at Fort Bragg, N.C., and is the team lead for the initial Greek OH-58D training program as well as the first OH-58D Technical Assistance Fielding Team deployed to Greece.
A total of 70 Kiowa Warrior aircraft were granted to Greece in early 2018 under the foreign military sales program administered by USASAC.
The helicopters were unloaded at the Greek port of Volos on May 16, and then flown by U.S. and Greek crews to the Hellenic Army Aviation air base at Stefanovikio where pilot and maintainer training is being conducted.
“The procurement of the Kiowa Warrior helicopters by Greece helps build partner capacity by covering an immediate gap in Greece's attack or observation helicopter requirement,” said Andrew Neushaefer, USASAC's country program manager for Greece.
The Kiowa helicopters had been invaluable to the Army as a light observation and reconnaissance aircraft since it was first received in 1969 and saw immediate action supporting the U.S. war efforts in Vietnam.
“The Kiowa Warrior was a vital and irreplaceable asset in the Army,” Meadows noted. “After its divestiture, ground soldiers and pilots alike wished we still had it.”
In 2013 almost 350 aircraft were retired under an Army-centric effort to modernize their aviation fleet. The newer and more complicated AH-64 Apache was chosen to fulfill the Kiowa’s role until a future vertical lift aircraft could be fielded.
According to Bell Helicopter, as of 2013, the OH-58 airframe had more than 820,000 combat hours in its decades of service. During the wars following 9/11, the OH-58D version, known as the Kiowa Warrior, accounted for nearly 50 percent of all Army reconnaissance and attack missions flown in Iraq and Afghanistan, the highest usage rate of any Army aircraft.
Now held in long-term storage at the ‘boneyard’ of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, the Army considered the Kiowa helicopters excess defense articles and made them available to approved allies and partner forces.
Greece saw an opportunity to upgrade its defensive capabilities and acquired the helicopters at a reduced cost as it was only required to pay for packing, crating, handling and transportation, as well as any refurbishments, if necessary.
But bringing any new aircraft into a military’s service, even as seemingly uncomplicated as a 60’s-era helicopter, requires a well-trained and highly qualified team of aviators and maintainers to fly and manage the aircraft.
Using a total package approach, members of the USASAC team, along with their partners at Army Missile and Aviation Command, made sure that transportation, parts, supplies and training were all accounted for during FMS case development with timelines built-in to ensure continuous progress.
Chief Meadows was involved with the Greek’s OH-58D case from the early stages and has had many challenges to overcome in bringing the program together.
“I made frequent drives to Fort Eustis in Virginia to assist in the regeneration of the Kiowas and began flying them again in order to support the training mission,” Meadows said.
Although assigned initially as a Contracting Officer Representative and the government flight representative, Meadows had the skills and experience to do much more and was selected to be an instructor as well.
Once Meadows and his team got the program on the ground in Greece they faced a number of challenges, mostly associated with maintenance and logistics.
“The Greek system of maintenance and logistic support, although effective, is very different than the U.S. systems,” Meadows said. “If we had something break, and it wasn’t a common issue, any parts needed had to be shipped from the U.S. to Greece, which adds substantial time from parts demand to replacement. That being said, the Greek maintainers are excellent. They are doing a superb job at learning this aircraft and maintaining it.”
Meadows also knew that providing this aircraft to Greece would greatly contribute to their national security interests.
“Seeing Greece gain this capability and being part of it is amazing,” said Meadows. “The mission set of the Kiowa and the pilots it produces will greatly complement the already robust Hellenic Army.”
To date, under the FMS program, at least 10 countries have OH-58s in their inventory with Croatia, Tunisia and Greece being the latest.