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MH-6M / AH-6M Little Bird Helicopter

The AH-6M / MH-6M 'Little Bird' are light attack/assault helicopters operated by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Night Stalkers). Both the AH-6M and MH-6M are based around a civilian airframe (MD530F), with extensive modifications in terms of avionics and provisions for the mounting of specialized equipment and weapons systems.

MH-6M - Rangers
A MH-6M pictured in-flight, carrying Rangers strapped to benches along the fuselage.
photo courtesy US Army

AH-6/MH-6 - Crew

Although Little Birds can be crewed by just one pilot, it's more common that they are crewed by 2 Night Stalkers i.e. a Pilot and Co-pilot.

Little Bird - Roles

AH-6M - Role

The AH-6M is flown as a light attack helicopter, SOAR AH-6Ms may be used in pre-planned direct action attacks and in the close air support role.

MH-6M - Role

The MH-6M is unarmed and is designed as a light assault helicopter and is primarily used for precision insertion and extraction of special operations forces (SOF). Its small size allows it to land on small roofs or down in narrow streets. The MH-6M can also be flown in the aerial reconnaissance role.

Little Bird - Common Features

The Night Stalkers previously operated AH-6J and MH-6J variants of the Little Bird. The Mission-Enhanced Little Bird (MELB) program, which completed in 2015, upgraded the Little Bird fleet to MH-6M and AH-6M standards. The MELB program introduced a number of Improvements to the Little Bird line, including a 6-bladed main rotor and 4-bladed tail rotor. An improve tail boom and tail rotor drive system, chambered vertical fin and improved tail stinger were also added, The helicopter's cabin features enlarged aft doors / openings and improved landing gear (struts).

The aircraft is powered by a Rolls Royce 250-C30R/3M 650shp turboshaft engine with Full authority digital engine control (FADEC) system. An improved engine inlet and engine inlet barrier filter (IBF) and IBF minder ensure the engine remains free from dust, sand and other particles.

Other features include crashworthy main fuel tanks that are resistant to small arms fire up to and including .50 cal. The helicopter can also mount external extended-range fuel tanks. Little Birds can be rapidly 'broken down' and air transported in cargo planes, then quickly built up at their destination.

Communications include AN/ARC-231 radios (UHF, VHF and SATCOMM) and a AN/APX-123 IFF transponder. A chin-mounted turret houses AN/ZSQ-3 infrared and electro-optical sensors. These sensor pods come in 2 flavors: V1 Assault for the MH-6m and V2 Attack for the AH-6M.

Little Birds have a Night-Vision-Goggles-compatible Rockwell Collins digital glass cockpit that features 2 multifunction LCD display screens, control display units. A Cockpit Management System (CMS) displays flight systems, navigation and sensor data on the MFDs. These include a digital moving map display and the display of video from the AN/ZSQ-3 sensor package.

AH-6M Features

Based around the MD530 airframe, the AH-6M gunship features lightweight pylons for the loading over a number of weapons systems including:

  • M134 miniguns
  • M260 FFAR rocket pods
  • AGM-114 Hellfire laser-guided anti-tank missiles
  • GAU-19 .50 cal 3-barrel gatling guns

For target acquisition, the AH-6M's AN/ZSQ-3 (V2 Attack) FLIR sensor features a laser range finder and target designator via which the AGM-114 Hellfire missiles can be targeted.

AH-6M gunship
A AH-6M gunship banks while carrying out close air support training in coordination with ground troops from the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. This Little Bird is armed with 2 M134 7.62 miniguns and 7-tube FFAR rocket pods. The M250 FFAR pod can fire high explosive and/or fletchette anti-personnel rockets.
photo courtesy US Army

AH-6M light
AH-6M light attack helicopter armed with (left to right) M260 FFAR rocket pod, M134 7.62 minigun and GAU-19 .50 cal gatling gun.
U.S. Marine Corps photograph by SSgt. Artur Shvartsberg, MAWTS-1 COMCAM/Released

MH-6M Features

The MH-6M is configured for the insertion and extraction of special operations forces and can be configured with specialized equipment for this task:

  • external personnel pods (EPS)
    fold-down benches fitted each side of the fuselage which each can hold 2-3 men
  • fast rope insertion / extraction (FRIES) gear
  • racks for carrying motorcycles (up to 2)
  • winch / hoist system
Rangers deploy from MH-6M via fast-rope. The FRIES gear features a bolt-on frame to which the set of ropes are attached. A manual quick-release mechanism drops the ropes to the ground once the fast-rope insertion is complete.
U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Gabriel Segura

AH-6M/MH-6M Specifications

Crew 2 - Pilot, Co-pilot
Engines Rolls-Royce Model 250-C30R/3M turboshaft
Dimensions L - 9.8m
W (rotorspan) - 8.1m
H - 2.6m
Weights 4,700 lbs (max gross weight)
Cruise Speed 90 knots
Range 430 km
Various combinations of :
2x TOW missile pods (4 missiles total)
2x M260 FFAR 2.75" 7/12-rocket pods.
2x .50 caliber gun pods
2x AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles
2x Stinger Air-to-Air Missiles
2x M134 7.62mm miniguns
2x MK19 Grenade Launchers

Little Bird Resources

« 160th SOAR

Featured Little Bird Photo
ah-6 gunship
A pair of AH-6j gunships take off from an aircraft carrier.
(click for fullsize)
more Night Stalker photos

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