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NorthStar Turns Commercial Helo into Gunship

by Brendan McGarry on May 6, 2014

407MRH Hover

NASHVILLE, Tennessee — U.S. helicopter pilots and maintainers couldn’t stop gawking at NorthStar Aviation’s new light-attack helicopter, the 407MRH, at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual conference.

“This is amazing,” Spc. Jessica Sanford, 26, an unmanned aerial vehicle maintainer who previously worked on OH-58 Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopter, gushed on Tuesday at the event, known as Quad A.

The Abu Dhabi-based company took a standard commercial Bell 407GH helicopter and transformed it with state-of-the-art sensors, electronic avionics and weapons systems to create the 407MRH, according to Adam Gunn, the company’s technical director.

407MRH Instrument Panel

The platform can perform any number of missions — from light attack to close air support to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — thanks in part to the FLIR 260HLD electro-optical/infrared sensor beneath the nose, a four-station weapons set-up beneath the wings and an electronic mission-management system in the cockpit.

It also features night-vision compatible interior and exterior lighting, meaning those without night-vision goggles can’t see the illumination.

The price tag: $9 million. “Not everybody has $80 million to buy an Apache,” Gunn explained.

HellFire - M134

The company, which is owned by a member of the United Arab Emirates’ royal family, has a contract to supply the UAE armed forces with 30 aircraft. It has already delivered two production models and plans to deliver about one a month through 2016. (The model on display was a prototype that was flown from the company’s hangar in Florida.) It has received interest at the show from potential customers in Europe, South America and the Middle East, Gunn said.

Sanford, the soldier, said she liked the fact that there was so much room in the front of the cockpit. She once had to squeeze under the chin bubble compartment in a Kiowa to replace a radar component that failed. Another time, one of the maintainers had to crawl up on the top of the aircraft to replace a sensor payload.

“Everything is so clear and easy to access,” she said.

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

blight_ May 6, 2014 at 3:16 pm

But…we just canned all of our Bell 406s! (The OH-58 and the TH-57)

Stop teasing us.

That said, the Kiowas had less room because they had more hardware. If you just want to rain rockets on people, should've gone with the ARH-70. Though when the ARH-70 blew up its overruns, it was estimated at 14.5 M/unit (perhaps the Army cut the buy to make the program costs appear lower at skewing per unit costs?)

Not sure how they're getting 9m if the ARH-70 started at 8.5 and went north from there.


Lance Brown May 6, 2014 at 3:28 pm

OH-58s are not gone yet congress disagrees with there plane to scrap them and to scrap all NG units that have AH-64s.


dan May 6, 2014 at 4:43 pm

I doubt the Northstar has to factor in crap like EPA standards, Unionized labor force, workman's comp, health insurance, kickbacks for executives and gov't employees, ect.


rtsy May 7, 2014 at 9:02 pm

Dictatorships are nice like that.


BDD May 8, 2014 at 3:32 pm

The cost is so cheap because they do not have to comply with the FAR and DFARS that bloat indirect costs. This is a commercial venture so it’s quick and reasonably priced. Besides, BELL has never been able to develop or properly subcontract a properly integrated avionics suite.


Lance Brown May 6, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Seems like we need to keep our Kiowa's we can replace Apaches with them at a fraction of the price! Or maybe we should leave our helos alone. Time to can idiots like Gen Odienaro!


Greg May 6, 2014 at 8:31 pm

Replace apaches with a Kiowa. Do you hear what you are saying? Does it even make sense to you? Come on man, I don't want to be negative, but that isn't too bright of a comment.

" Seems like we need to keep our Kiowa's we can replace Apaches with them at a fraction of the price!"

Seriously what made you say such a thing. Should we get rid of the M1 and replace it with a stryker next.

WTF, your comment just irked me.


Mystick May 7, 2014 at 2:07 pm

"get rid of the M1 and replace it with a stryker next."

That's exactly what they did in the CENTCOM theater. of operations.


Sieg May 7, 2014 at 7:29 pm

Cool story. As a former 64 crew chief, the Kiowa is a scout chopper that has delusions of being an attack chopper. Likewise, the 64 is a much of a massive pit of money and maintenance time as it is a hovering beacon of death and destruction. The Kiowa is not capable of going rotor to rotor with the Apache in terms of damage, and the Apache simply costs too much to use frequently as a scout or escort chopper in missions where that much payload or capability is genuinely required.


Mike May 14, 2014 at 8:11 pm

As a 58 crew chief I agree whole heartedly with you. It's two different missions that require two different aircraft. The 58 can turn hours on hours on hours of flight time. It's a proven airframe (apart from the boxbeam separation issues after OIF and OEF mass deployments). The Army needs a small, armed, close support helo that provides a low operational cost and is trust worthy to get off the ground anytime the ground guys need it. Shit canning the 58 was a stupid idea.

greg May 6, 2014 at 4:39 pm

It's not expensive enough for the DoD too buy. The DoD has a minimum $ amount for equipment.


Bernard May 6, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Can we fit these with unmanned flight control systems like they've been doing with the K-MAX and Blackhawk? An unmanned helicopter gunship would be awesome.


Clint Notestine May 6, 2014 at 9:31 pm

you could probably add a bit of ammo in place of a human


majr0d May 7, 2014 at 10:41 pm

There's a reason no drones carry guns. The command lag time makes guns inaccurate. Same goes for dumb bombs or missiles.


mf! May 6, 2014 at 5:39 pm

I don't know about the OH-58 but the TH-57 had pretty terrible legs. I know the new version of the firescout (these are all the same model of helicopter in case you weren't aware) took care of that problem by filling up what used to be the back seat with full cells but I would imagine that room would be taken up in this helo by weapons hardware and I don't see any mounting point for an external fuel tank. Anyone know how much fuel this helo is supposed to carry?


Don Meaker May 6, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Northrop Grumman has a version of the OH-58 that is unmanned, as well as a version of the OH-6 .


Taylor May 6, 2014 at 8:39 pm

If someone is shooting at it is it a sitting duck? Does it even know it is being shot at? There is no pilot to notice and evade or counterattack. Doesn't seem like it could replace an Apache.


rtsy May 6, 2014 at 9:16 pm

… it does have a pilot. Read the article, one of them even mentions all the room up front to see those bad guys.


BlackOwl18E May 6, 2014 at 11:00 pm

Four questions:

1. What does it have in terms of defensive countermeasures against RPGs and MANPADs?

2. It's probably lightly armored. How much damage can it take?

3. What capacity does it have for upgrades in weapons and sensors?

4. Why are we not funding this? We could build about 9 of these for every Apache. In force, this could be an effective weapon against low end threats. terminating the enemy at a cheap cost to us.

Also, for some reason I am just glad to see dual mini-guns back. I don't know why, but they are just a favorite loadout of mine.


xXTomcatXx May 7, 2014 at 10:46 am

1. My guess is it would have standard chaff countermeasures for MANPADS. Not much you can do against and unguided RPG though.

2. The commercial model doesn't have all that much lift. So if you start adding a ton of armor you're going to significantly reduce performance.

3. I checked their website and it doesn't carry a radar. And the EOIR system they advertise is UAV quality.

4. Apache can take anywhere between 12.7 mm and 23 mm rounds, has serious countermeasures, and offensively packs a much bigger punch. I don't think you can compare this with that. You may be able to compare this with the Little Birds though. Not sure of the cost comparison there though.


tmb2 May 7, 2014 at 1:19 pm

It's a scout helicopter, not a slug-it-out gunship. There's no reason to compare it to the Apache.


RWB123 May 11, 2014 at 5:43 pm

This entire article is about how they turned a commercial helo into a gunship. There is every reason to compare it to an Apache.


tmb2 May 11, 2014 at 11:23 pm

At the bottom of the comments section even you made a distinction between scouts and gunships. Probably within seconds of writing this comment.


rtsy May 7, 2014 at 12:07 am

So glad to see a Middle East dictator branch out from oil to mass murder machines.


hibeam May 7, 2014 at 9:10 am

That baby looks like it could deliver a lot of MRE's to the Ukraine.


jamesb May 7, 2014 at 10:22 am

Ghee Wiz……

They just put the thing together, eh?

I'd bet the thing doesn't cost a BILLION each?

This just PROVED how the American process of obtaining equipment is BROKEN….


Dfens May 7, 2014 at 10:47 am

But just think of what this helicopter could have cost if it had been developed under the typical US government contract. Suddenly 8 becomes 80.


hibeam May 7, 2014 at 3:53 pm

And then when it comes time to purchase them, suddenly 80 becomes 8.


LoSul May 7, 2014 at 10:22 am

Bell already currently offers an armed commercial 407 called the 407AH. Its been to dozens of shows for the past 3 years.

How is anyone at all amazed by this UAE-modded version of the EXACT SAME THING?


Gunnsite May 8, 2014 at 10:21 pm

The Bell ARH (marketed as the Bell 407 GT) platform does not have precision weapons capability; just unguided rockets and guns.


PukinPutin May 7, 2014 at 2:44 pm

I wanna wipe out everything in range of my minigun and Hellfires. I'm hungry for WAR.


Capt Pat May 7, 2014 at 10:34 pm

Nothing on this surprises me. Its fielded by people who don't hold life to dear, so they're not concerned with surivability. And if they do sell a bunch to potential adversaries of ours, so much the better, it doesn't stand much of a chance against a real military helo. Its like the say with ships, anything can be a minesweeper 'once'. You can be a combat helo once even though you should have remained a scout or lifeflight helo.


David Powell May 7, 2014 at 11:19 pm



Bill May 8, 2014 at 9:50 am

Why would the U.S. Army buy a helicopter that costs only 9 million dollars? The taxpayers
would then have money to spend on stupid things like healthcare, feed their children, keep a roof over their heads and stupid stuff like that. Besides, everybody knows that you
need a high tech billion dollar helicopter to kill about 50 Taliban that"s left in Afghanistan , After all, let's face it the Taliban have AK 47 rifles and knives. Nuff said.


blight_ May 8, 2014 at 10:12 am

There probably aren't that many Taliban, but there's probably plenty of people who want the foreigners gone.


Mat May 8, 2014 at 10:37 am

you are an idiot if you think the Taliban only have AK47's and knives and I hope you are being sarcastic but my point is they have some pretty advanced stuff from the soviet era and also from purchases they make with their funding. We have lots of helicopters that do the exact same thing as this new helicopter but the Apache and Cobra are way more advanced and do a lot more than shoot a few rockets or spray some mini gun rounds all over.


Bill May 8, 2014 at 9:52 am

Let's face it, the billion dollar Apache helicopter is well named. It scalps the tax paying


CaptainDoc May 8, 2014 at 11:06 am

I wonder if the administration has considered having several of this type aircraft in conjunction with Apache's. We could have many of these and more is sometimes better. I support any of these aircraft as they are basically to support boots on the ground which is what wins conflict.


Chopprjock58D May 8, 2014 at 2:29 pm

There already is this type of aircraft that flies and performs much more reliably than the Apache. The OH-58D. This is aircraft is a knock off of a replacement version of the OH-58D that the US Army was testing. Unfortunately, the bean counters seem to think the Apache can do the Scout role and is terminating the OH-58D program and the successor program, OH-58F. The OH-58 series has amassed over 1,000,000 combat flight hours since 1968. It is cheaper and much more reliable than an Apache. In combat, an Apache will typically fly around 55 hrs per month versus an OH-58D which typically flies 100 hrs a month. It costs about $2300 per flight hour for an OH-58D versus $6034 per flight hour for an AH-64D.
The administration is dumping the OH-58D in a move they claim will save money. Figure that one out.

Source: I'm an OH-58D Instructor/Maintenance test pilot that's been flying it for 14 years with 5 combat tours in it.


mitchellfuller May 9, 2014 at 1:19 am

Wow, 5 combat tours, thank you for your service at the sharp end of the spear.


blight_ May 9, 2014 at 4:01 pm

They figured it'd be easier to get rid of the OH-58 than the AH-64.


RWB123 May 11, 2014 at 5:40 pm

That is for sure. Their thinking is that if you have to cut out something it would be better to drop the scouts than the gunships.


afret1991 May 9, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Look at it like this: what scares you the most, a couple of hawks or a very large swarm of ring tailed pissedoff hornets?


gordx May 10, 2014 at 5:34 am

looks like they'd be a good fit for the canadian armed forces. hear that steven harper , they're cheep…


blight_ May 12, 2014 at 9:34 am

We should just call it an armed helicopter and leave it at that.

It is probably minimally armored with a minimal electronics loadout and is skewed towards weapons delivery.

If the Army wants something with top-notch radar or FLIR for long range scouting a la Kiowa Warrior or Apache: this is not it.
If the Army wants something that can take hits: this is not it.
If SOCOM or SOAR wants something small that can run and gun: this might be it.
If the Army is thinking of adding more light helicopters for gunning down technicals and guys with small arms to take the load off of its more expensive Apaches: this might be it.
If the Army needs a light observation craft, this could be it.


anthony May 13, 2014 at 7:08 am

It looks good and tough to me ,,good light chopper feared chopper.and there is a pilot flying it!?


Rhys F May 20, 2014 at 12:06 am

Looks like a Bell based copy of the Hughes Defender 500 civilian based light gunship. .


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