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AH-6 Little Bird Gun

Light attack helicopter

AH-6 helicopter

The AH-6 is a light attack version of the MH-6 light utility helicopter

 
 
Country of origin United States
Entered service 1980
Crew 2 men
Dimensions and weight
Length 9.8 m
Main rotor diameter 8.3 m
Height 3 m
Weight (empty) 722 kg
Weight (maximum take off) 1 406 kg
Engines and performance
Engines T63-A-5A or T63-A-700 turboshaft
Engine power 252 or 375 shp respectively
Maximum speed 282 km/h
Cruising speed 250 km/h
Service ceiling 5 700 m
Range 430 km
Ferry range ?
Endurance up to 6 hours
Payload
Payload capacity ~ 680 kg
Armament
Machine guns 1 x 30 mm M230 chain gun, or 2 x three-barrel 12.7 mm GAU-19, or 2 x 7.62 mm M134 miniguns, or Mk.19 40 mm automatic grenade launcher
Missiles AGM-114 Hellfire, TOW anti-tank guided missiles or AIM-92 Stinger air-to-air missiles
Other pods with 7-shot Hydra 70 rockets

 

   Developed from the MH-6 light utility helicopter, the Boeing/Hughes AH-6 is a small, versatile attack helicopter used primarily as an air support platform for special operations. It is commonly known as "Little Bird" or "Little Bird Gun". This helicopter also has a number of variants. More recent models are based on the MD-530 civilian helicopter.

   In 1960, the U.S. Army issued a requirement for a light helicopter suitable for observation, transport, and even attack roles. The 1966 OH-6 Cayuse was the result. However, by 1980, the Army decided to field an improved model. For observation and transport, they developed MH-6, while the AH-6 assumed the attack roles once done by the OH-6A.

   The AH-6 utilizes an “egg-shaped” design. The front houses a large glass, high-visibility bubble cockpit, capable of seating two crew members. The rear is the home of the engine, which develops about 375 shp, powering the Little Bird to a maximum speed of 282 km/h. With 235 liters (62 gallons) of internal fuel, the AH-6 has a max range of 430 kilometers.

   The AH-6 has a number of features that have made it the U.S. Special Forces’ primary (and only) attack helicopter to this day. Despite lacking armor, it is reasonably tough and leaves the pilots a good chance of survival in a crash. It is very quiet, and when painted black, has a good degree of stealth. This light helicopter is also immensely proficient at difficult, fast, and dangerous maneuvers, making it suitable for both urban and rural environments, especially at low altitudes.

   The AH-6 can carry a wide variety of weapons on its two mounting pylons. It is generally a combination of the following weapons: M230 30 mm chainguns, six-barreled M134 7.62 mm miniguns, three-barreled 12.7 mm GAU-19 Gatling guns, pods with Hydra 70 mm unguided rockets, AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles, TOW anti-tank missiles, Mk.19 40 mm automatic grenade launchers, and AIM-92 Stinger short range air-to-air missiles.

   Generally, AH-6s carry their own targeting and sensor systems. However, the MH-6 can accompany the AH-6s on an attack mission and carry sensor systems, allowing the AH-6s to dump theirs and carry more armament instead.

   The AH-6 has a distinguished combat history. After the 1980 failure in the Eagle Claw hostage-rescue operation, the United States needed a special operation helicopter unit. It quickly formed the 160th Special Operations Aviation Brigade (SOAR), more commonly known as the Night Stalkers. This unit has provided and continues to provide ceaseless close air support for special forces units, particularly the elite troops of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

   The AH-6 first saw combat (although of a limited amount) in Grenada and, later, Nicaragua. However, the AH-6 really proved itself in Operation Prime Chance, a mission for protecting merchant shipping. Here, AH-6s, in conjunction with Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR)-equipped MH-6s used 7.62 mm miniguns and Hydra 70 rocket pods to destroy an Iranian minelayer and three speedboats.

   In Operation Just Cause, the U.S. invasion of Panama, AH-6s played a critical role, providing air support in multiple encounters. The Little Birds later participated in the hunt for Manuel Noriega. Four years later, in the much publicized Battle for Mogadishu, an AH-6 succeeded in defending the crash site of one of the downed Blackhawks.

   The MH-6 saw much combat first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. They provided air support for some JSOC missions and other times went on raiding operations, destroying numerous vehicles and compounds. In Iraq, at the height of the US war there, JSOC launched many missions a day to eliminate insurgents. These missions typically consisted of two AH-6s for interdiction, two MH-6s with snipers for pinpoint shooting, and two MH-60 Black Hawks full of operators for assault.

   One interesting capability that operatives in the 160th SOAR exploit is known as “Smokey and the Bandit”. The operatives fold the Little Bird’s rotors and pack as many as two of them into a large commercial transport truck. This allows the operatives to bring the helicopters close to the target without attracting attention. Once they are ready to use the helicopters, operatives can reassemble the AH-6s in about three minutes.

 

Variants

 

   AH-6C: original model.

   AH-6F: a dedicated special forces attack helicopter.

   AH-6G: another special forces variant.

   AH-6I: a Saudi Arabian export model based on the AH-6S.

   AH-6J: updated version based on the civilian MD-530MG. Improvements include a better engine, Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) technology, and an internal navigation system.

   AH-6M: it is the latest variant. It is also known as the Mission Enhanced Little Bird (MELB). This is an upgrade program that introduces a number of improvements, including a new 6-bladed main rotor (which further reduces noise), a Rolls-Royce 250-C30R/3M 650 shp engine, and fuel tanks that are supposedly resistant to crashes and heavy machine gun fire.

   AH-6S: proposed contender for the Army’s Armed Aerial Scout (AES) development program.

   AH-6X: an Unmanned Ariel Vehicle (UAV) model. It is marketed primarily at other countries. Can also be manned.

 

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AH-6 helicopter

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AH-6 helicopter

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AH-6 helicopter

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AH-6 helicopter

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AH-6 helicopter

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AH-6 helicopter

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AH-6 helicopter

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AH-6 helicopter

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AH-6 helicopter

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