This light observation helicopter, the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse, is often used as on escort and attack missions, as a personnel transport helicopter and also as an observation aircraft. First introduced in 1965 after its initial flight in February of 1963, the OH-6 is still in active service today. When in combat, these helicopters were often referred to as ‘Killer Eggs’. Because the aircraft’s ability to strike undetected in darkness, it’s often referred to by the Army’s Special Forces as ‘Night Stalker’.
Design and Development
When the US Army issued its Technical Specifications for a ‘Light Observation Helicopter (LOH)’, twelve different companies submitted proposals. The requirements mandated the aircraft be flexible enough to fulfill a variety of roles including personnel transport, casualty evacuation, observation and escort and observation. After narrowing down the competition, Hughes won the contract over Fairchild-Hiller. Later, it was discovered that Hughes had submitted a bid lower than cost in order to secure the US Army’s order. He did so hoping additional production orders would eventually result in profit.
In 1968, when Hughes was submitting another build for additional OH-6s, Hiller reported Hughes unethical bid to the US Army. As a result, the Army opened up the bidding to all previous parties, though Hiller did not participate. The aircraft were presented in a fly-off and then sealed bids were submitted. Hughes did not win the contract.
The OH-6s Operational History
The OH-6 Cayuse helicopter participated in Vietnam beginning in 1966 with over 100 being built for this mission alone. Additional variants of the helicopter served in Granada and Panama throughout the 1980s and service continued into the Gulf wars, Somalia and the Balkans. Outside of military service, the OH-6 was also used in 1972 as part of a covert wire-tapping mission by the CIA.
In April of 1980, shortly after the Operation Eagle Claw failed to rescue a group of American hostages in Tehran, the military realized it lacked both the aircraft and the specialized crews to perform this type of specialized operation. As a result, the US Army began developing a plan for a special aviation task force – Task Force 160.
It was determined this newly formed task group would require a small helicopter that could land in restrictive locations. The aircraft would also need to operate as a transporter. After reviewing the full criteria, the OH-6A was ultimately chosen to fulfill the role. It was dubbed, ‘Little Bird’.
The OH-6A helicopter and the newly designed Task Force 160 were called upon in late 1980s but hostages were eventually released in January of 1981.
- 2-4 passengers or 4 armed troops (or)
- 7 armed troops or 2 stretchers (or)
- 7-8 passengers total
Maximum Take-off Weight: 3,549 lbs.
Maximum Speed: 175 miles per hour
Cruising speed: 155 miles per hour
- 2 x M60 or M134 Minigun 7.62mm machine guns; 2 x .50cal MG pods
- 14 x 2.75 in Hydra 70 rockets in two pods
- 4 TOW missiles in two pods
- 4 Hellfire missiles in two pods
This impressive aircraft, the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse, is still in production today with variants continuing to support the US Army, the Argentine Air Force and the Columbian Air Force.