South Korea’s largest airline and flag carrier, Korean Air, announced on June 26 that it had formally delivered its first AH-6 Little Bird helicopter fuselage to Boeing Defense, Space & Security.
The production and subsequent delivery of this initial fuselage comes after Korean Air signed a contract with Boeing in December 2021 to manufacture and deliver eight AH-6 Little Bird helicopter fuselages, which will undergo final assembly with Boeing Defense, Space & Security. To fulfil this contract, the South Korean firm is working closely with its partner, Kencoa Aerospace, to deliver the eight fuselages to Boeing.
While Boeing nor Korean Air have specified which operator will be the eventual end user of these AH-6 fuselages, the former still has an outstanding order for eight light attack-configured AH-6i Little Bird helicopters from Thailand. In February 2022, Boeing was awarded a $103m contract through the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme to produce eight AH-6is for the Royal Thai Army, with deliveries scheduled to take place between 2024-2025. The acquisition of these helicopters is intended to help the Royal Thai Army in its quest to replace its ageing fleet of Bell AH-1F Cobra gunships, which entered operational service in 1990.
The US State Department announced it had approved the sale of eight AH-6is to Thailand on September 24, 2019, adding that the light attack helicopters would each be fitted with Wescam MX-10 electro-optic (EO) sensors that would be compatible with night-vision goggles (NVGs). In the announcement, it was also confirmed that the proposed sale included 50 AGM-114R Hellfire air-to-ground missiles; 200 laser-guided Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System 2.75in rockets; Hydra 70 unguided rockets; M134 7.62mm miniguns and 0.5in heavy machine guns.
The AH-6 Little Bird is an extensively modernised light attack variant of the MH-6 Little Bird special operations helicopter, which is based on the MD 500/OH-6 light utility/observation helicopter. Korean Air boasts a long history with MD 500-series rotorcraft and was the first South Korean company to manufacture the type in-country. The firm has developed an unmanned MD 500 and actively plans to expand its collaboration with Boeing to expand its overseas sales, manufacturing business and development of new aircraft going forward.