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21 October 2015

Seoul ADEX 2015: - Korean Air Moves Forward with Unmanned MD500

Korean Air Aerospace Division is progressing with its KUS-VH (for Korean Air Unmanned System - Vertical Helicopter) derivative of the MD500 helicopter it has emerged during Seoul ADEX 2015.

Korean Air Aerospace Division is progressing with its KUS-VH (for Korean Air Unmanned System - Vertical Helicopter) derivative of the MD500 helicopter it has emerged during Seoul ADEX 2015. 
On display in hall B at Seongnam air base where this year's edition of Seoul ADEX is held, is a concept demonstrator fitted with a dummy EO/IR sensor and weapons load. Speaking to MT on Wednesday, Won Jin Kim, Korean Air's R&D center manager explained that unlike Boeing's optionally piloted H-6U version of the LITTLE BIRD helicopter, the KUS-VH will be unmanned.

However, without going into too much detail, Kim acknowledged reports that Korean Air had leaned on some of the technology used by Boeing for its Unmanned LITTLE BIRD, saying this phase of the programme commenced in January 2014. According to Kim, this summer the KUS-VH programme reached the next stage meaning it was decided by Korean Air to actually construct an unmanned version. With integration efforts ongoing, flight tests are now planned to commence in late 2016, early 2017. Although the Korean military has no requirement for such a system at the moment, Kim expects to see an RfP being issued once the first trials have been conducted succesfully. Korean Air plans to use a number of the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army's MD500 helicopters that will become surplus to requirements once the new KUH-1 Surion comes online in large numbers. However, Kim made clear Korean Air has not yet reached an understanding with Korea's military about such a scheme under which the army would buy back a limited number of MD500 helicopters modified by the company. Currently almost 200 aircraft are stil in service which eventually will have to be withdrawn.

Typically, a KUS-VH system would consist of a GCS and two to four air vehicles. Possible military applications include ISR, aerial delivery, amphibious operations support and attack with joint operations with manned attack helicopters such as the ROK Army's new AH-64E being envisaged. Civilian duties could include coast guard missions and the transport of emergency supplies.

At the show Korean Air also exhibits a further four UAS projects including the stealthy KUS-FC UCAV and the KUS-FS MALE UAS. Both projects are still on the drawing board. However, the company's KUS-FT multi-purpose tactical UAS has entered serial production this year with an unspecified number of systems to be used by Korea's army. A division level asset, KUS-FT consists of four 150 kg air vehicles together with a GCS, an ATOLS launch and recovery system and ground support equipment. According to Korean Air, KUS-FT is the first Korean UAV to be awarded an airworthiness type certificate. This milestone was achieved in October 2014. Meanwhile, Korean Air's KUS-VT tiltrotor UAV is based on the TR-60 developed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). The TR-60 is a variant of the earlier TR-100 that has been scaled down in order to make it better suited for ISTAR missions or civilian applications such as fish detection, coastal surveillance etc. The latter aircraft was first unveiled in late 2011 while KARI launched the TR-60 early this year.
Pieter Bastiaans

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