Twenty feet overhead at the front entrance of the Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker, Alabama, is a static display of the Kiowa Warrior OH-58A/C helicopter.
It’s the only A/C model Kiowa Warrior that visitors to the museum will see flying in the vicinity these days.
The Aviation Center Logistics Command released its last Kiowa OH-58A to the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, Crown Point, Indiana, on Oct. 17.
“It is bittersweet for some of us who have worked with the Kiowa OH-58A while it was here at Fort Rucker,” said Steven Gatto, ACLC’s senior aircraft equipment specialist.
“The Kiowa OH-58 represents a legacy of aircraft that have grown Army Aviation into the responsive, defensive and strategic asset that it is today. It was a Soldier’s helicopter, able to rush in and defend Army assets in even the most urban areas. Yes, its Army mission is over, but these helicopters are now making a second career for themselves as assets for law enforcement agencies throughout the nation.”
In its heyday, Fort Rucker was home to about 92 Kiowa OH-58 helicopters, with a mix of both “A” and “C” models, Gatto said.
Kiowa OH-58A/C models were used to train pilots in the Basic Warfighters Skills course, which is part of Fort Rucker’s flight school training program. The 20-day course is taught exclusively at Fort Rucker’s Shell Airfield, representing a portion of the overall flight training that teaches pilots navigation, tactical flying, map reading and terrain interpretation, Gatto said.
“The OH-58 aircraft is very inexpensive to operate per hour and is a basic flying platform for flight training worldwide that gives the pilot good stick and rudder pilotage,” Gatto said. “But, since the Army is no longer going to be using Kiowa helicopters, we were required to update our training of basic flying skills using the UH-72 Lakota, a dual engine aircraft.”
A Vietnam era helicopter, the Kiowa OH-58 was built and designed as an observation helicopter. Its primary role was to provide security and reconnaissance for ground command. The first Kiowa OH-58s arrived at Fort Rucker in 1986 with the primary mission of aero-scout integration. The “A” and “C” models were modified in 1991 as armed scout helicopters after the Kiowa OH-58D successfully flew armed mission in the Persian Gulf to provide ship security during Operation Prime Chance.
In 2014, the Army decided to divest of the Kiowa OH-58s and focus on using the AH-64 D/E Apache model helicopters combined with unmanned aerial vehicles for the security and reconnaissance mission. In response, Fort Rucker began transitioning the Basic Warfighter Skills course to the UH-72A Lakota helicopter.
The last OH-58A at Fort Rucker had its first career in support of missions at Fort Hood, Texas. OH-58A, number 68-16745
was delivered to Fort Hood on Nov. 19, 1969. As it goes on to its second career with the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, it will get a new look in paint color and insignia.
“Most government agencies will paint their newly acquired aircraft to suit its new mission’s needs, whether it will be a camouflage scheme used for drug counter surveillance or a bright color used within the city limits for local law enforcement support,” Gatto said. “This Kiowa, like others sold to law enforcement agencies, will be used for local law enforcement support, drug surveillance, search and rescue as well as air medical movement of personnel.”
Although the more recent divestiture of Kiowa helicopters have allowed them to go on to new missions, this is not the first time OH-58s have been repurposed for use outside of the active Army.
“In 1992, 76 OH-58As were modified with an engine upgrade, a thermal imaging system, a communications package for law enforcement agencies, enhanced navigational equipment and high skid gear as part of the Army National Guard’s Counter-Drug RAID program,” Gatto said.
“Once the National Guard was done with these aircraft, the Army placed them in the Law Enforcement Support Program. Today, these OH-58A/C aircraft are in many different states. Many are here in Alabama, such as in Coffee County and Ashville.”
The Department of Defense and the Army transfers unneeded aircraft and other items – such as clothing, vehicles, rifles and rescue equipment — to law enforcement agencies through the Law Enforcement Support Office, which is authorized to facilitate a law enforcement support program by the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 1997. The law allows transfer of excess Department of Defense property to law enforcement agencies across the U.S. and its territories. Since its inception, the program has transferred more than $6 billion worth of property. In 2014, $980 million worth of property (based on initial acquisition cost) was transferred to law enforcement agencies. More than 8,000 law enforcement agencies are enrolled in the program.
When transferring a Kiowa OH-58 A/C model to a law enforcement agency, ACLC transfers all maintenance records to paper copies, ensures all Fort Rucker property has been removed from the aircraft and conducts a joint maintenance inspection with the new owning agency, Gatto said.
“Once this inspection is completed, new hand-receipts are signed with the new owners, and the new hand-receipt holder removes the aircraft from Fort Rucker,” he said.
Often, these new owners are law enforcement agencies because of the easy adaptability of the Kiowa helicopter to the law enforcement mission.
“Because the aircraft is a basic helicopter design, which is very close to the civilian Bell 206 helicopter configuration, many civilian helicopter pilots are already very familiar with its cockpit layout and have already flown this type aircraft, which makes flight assimilation fairly easy,” Gatto said.
While many Kiowa helicopters have flown on to new missions, some have been sent to the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office for final disposition.
“Those identified for disposal had airframe structural issues that were too expensive to fix,” Gatto said. “We have only transferred OH-58s that are still safe to fly and that are still very much viable for high performance on future missions.”
Although the only remaining Kiowa Warrior A/C helicopter at Fort Rucker is now a museum display model, the installation’s flight school still uses OH-58C models in training. Fort Rucker plans to remove the last remaining OH-58C models from the training mission near the end of fiscal year 2019.