By Col Christopher B. Carlile October 13, 2011
What was thought to be an aircraft of the past is making a much needed resurgence, and in a big way.
Bell Helicopter ended production on the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior (KW) in 1999 but today brand new D-Models are headed back to the fight thanks to the Wartime Replacement Aircraft (WRA) program at the Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD).
Used extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq, the OH-58 Kiowa Warriors are in short supply due to the previously proposed phase-out and replacement by, initially the RA-66 Comanche, then the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, ARH-70 Arapaho, programs that have since been cancelled.
The Army is approved to be at a fleet level of 368 aircraft for the KW. Increasing the number of 58s is crucial at a time when cost-effective measures are critical to support of the war effort. WRA is currently funded to replace 42 aircraft to allow the Army to get its Kiowa Warrior fleet back up to the sustainable number of 368 units.
CCAD rolled out its first Kiowa Warrior cabin in 2009 and first Crash Battle Damage (CBD) aircraft in 2010. Now, nearly three years later the Depot is teaming up with the KW Program Management Office (PMO) at Redstone Arsenal in Hunstville, Alabama to save millions of dollars per aircraft using the WRA.
The WRA is a four phase program, two of which take place at the Depot.
Phase 1: An A-Model Kiowa Warrior is inducted at an Aviation Forward Maintenance Activity (AFMA) site in San Angelo, Texas and stripped down. Its parts are harvested and sent back into supply.
Phase 2: Referred to as the Cabin Modification Program. Here the aircraft comes to CCAD. It's taken and stripped to a bare metal structure and goes through pre-shop analysis, cleaning, and stripping, before heading into a final pre-shop analysis (PSA 2), structural repair, and lastly, paint.
Phase 3: The cabin gets inducted as just a cabin at Bell Helicopter in Amarillo, Texas. Bell takes the bare metal cabin and converts it to a D Model configuration cabin. Once they do that, they populate it and build it up, to include wiring harness and all the items from the roof line down, except line replaceable unit, or LRU, type items. Bell does not populate the cockpit, the avionics boxes, radios, or similar items.
Phase 4: The cabin returns to CCAD for final assembly.
Instead of repairing CBD 58s, using the Phase 2 Cabin Modification Program will save nearly half the price of a CBD repair.
After Phase 3, some cabins are stored in the Integrated Materiel Management Center, or IMMC, until they are needed.
If there is a severely damaged KW, program managers may decide that using a Phase 3 cabin might be a better option. In this case, the data plate is taken off a CBD aircraft and, the aircraft is completely scrapped. The data plate is then put on a brand new 58D.
Since the program began in 2009, CCAD has produced 15 cabins. As of August, eight are at Bell Helicopter and pending returns.
The first cabin returned to CCAD Phase 4 is tail number 176, which will complete final structural modification and assembly by October 1 and final flight test in November.
Retired U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Marco Garcia is the OH-58 Program Manager Lead at CCAD. Garcia has field combat experience with the Kiowa Warrior and understands the impact it has on the battlefield.
"The OH-58s are the eyes in the sky that make things happen while keeping ground support troops safe."
Adding that one of the biggest successes of the program is CCAD's ability to work with the KW PMO, Garcia said, "The relationship between CCAD and the KW PMO is outstanding, we communicate every day. I know what they're doing and they know what I'm doing daily."
While communication is a key factor in fueling this program, CCAD had another advantage in putting the KW back on the map: a skilled workforce.
CCAD pulled from their workforce of nearly 6,000 to find prior military OH-58 mechanics with hands-on experience. These artisans were moved to the KW program- from different areas of the Depot, ranging from composite shops, mechanics from UH-60s and Apaches, and even one from the cleaning shop.
Two such artisans are Brad Crager and Dale Bower, former U.S. Army soldiers, who now work the OH-58 program at CCAD. Crager and Bower, along with others, did most of the rewiring, assembly, and all the components and off checks on components on the first 58 to go through CCAD.
Both worked on 58s in Afghanistan doing daily maintenance and Forward Area Refueling Point, also known as FARP.
Crager refers to the 58 as a little workhorse. "Its combat hours are ridiculous."
According to Army records the Kiowa Warrior has logged more than 600,000 combat hours between Iraq and Afghanistan where it endures not only sandy conditions but snow and high altitudes as well.
According to Army Air Cavalry Squadrons, since 2001, Kiowa Warriors have accounted for 47% of the total reconnaissance and attack aviation platforms, flying more than 52% of total reconnaissance and attack hours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
While the Wartime Replacement Aircraft program is just getting off its feet at CCAD, hangar space is currently being cleared to produce more 58 cabins for these warriors that just won't quit.
"The OH-58 helicopter helps save lives on the battle field. Knowing that there is a shortage of OH-58 aircraft at this time, it is my responsibility to help produce as many aircraft as I can in order to support this effort," said Garcia.