Boeing has begun work converting a single MD 500 Little Bird observation helicopter into an unmanned demonstrator platform for the Republic of Korea, with the goal of a first flight before the end of the year.
Speaking to reporters at the company's Mesa production facility in Arizona, Dino Cerchie, program manager of H-6U Unmanned Little Bird (ULB), said a team has just arrived in South Korea to begin modification work on the MD500 for the Republic of Korea Army (RoKA).
The modification work follows on the back of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) Boeing signed with Korea Air Aerospace Division (KAL-ASD) in 2013 to convert an undisclosed number of RoKA MD 500 helicopters into unmanned platforms. The MoU itself followed on from a 2012 demonstration flight of the ULB that was conducted for the RoKA by Boeing.
According to Cerchie, a decision on whether to proceed with converting multiple helicopters will be taken by the South Korean government once trials of the demonstrator aircraft have been completed.
The RoKA is thought to have 175 MD 500 Little Bird observation and light attack helicopters still in service (130 MD 500s in the observation role and 45 BGM-71 TOW missile-equipped Defender platforms in the light attack role). Although these are currently due to be replaced by the Boeing AH-64E Apache, Cerchie noted that the demonstrator programme would give the RoKA an alternative to retirement, whereby they could be used as unmanned scouts.
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