Korean Air Aerospace Division (KAL-ASD) has flown the unmanned version of the MD 500 Little Bird light-attack and observation helicopter for the first time, it was announced on 1 August.
The Korean Air Unmanned System - Vertical Helicopter (KUS-VH), as the platform is designated, performed its maiden flight on 30 July from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute facility in Goheung.
Having been revealed in 2015 and flying for the first time in an optionally piloted configuration in 2016, the KUS-VH has bene developed with help from Boeing, which has previously demonstrated its own H-6U unmanned Little Bird to the Republic of Korea Army (RoKA).
KAL-ASD has previously told Jane's that the company is seeking a fully unmanned solution by the time that development of the KUS-VH is complete, and that the platform will be equipped with 70 mm rockets and air-to-surface missiles for the ground-attack role. Performance details of the KUS-VH have not been disclosed, although the manned MD 500 on which it is based has a top speed of 152 kt, a range of 605 km, and a service ceiling of 16,000 ft.
While KAL-ASD has not identified the RoKA as a customer, the service is thought to have 175 manned MD 500 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). These were licence-built in the 1970s by KAL-ASD, so the Korean company has the proprietary knowledge and skill sets necessary to convert these ageing helicopters into unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
KAL-ASD has previously told Janeʼs that a request for proposals for a MD 500 and Bell AH-1 Cobra helicopter replacement for the RoKA was expected in late 2016 or early 2017, although this has yet to be issued (or at least publicised).
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