A Korean Air 500MD (KUS-VH) unmanned helicopter successfully completed
flight on 30 July.
The flight, which took place at Korea
Aerospace Research Institute’s aviation center located in Goheung,
lasted for about 30 minutes.
The 500MD unmanned helicopter took
off and hovered 10 meters (30ft) above the ground, showcasing the
capabilities and functionality of the unmanned flight control
Korean Air has been modifying 500MD helicopters
to turn them into unmanned helicopters since 2014 through a series
of programs, including a technology development project of Korea’s
Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
Korean Air will gradually expand the unmanned
helicopter’s flight range and operational altitude by continuing
its development until 2021.
For the inaugural flight, Korean Air conducted
ground tests, including a remote engine start, and tethered
hover flight tests. The
company then received a special airworthiness certification from
the Defense Acquisition Program Administration.
The KUS-VH is equipped with a state-of-the-art
system, featuring a flight control computer, tactical-EGI,
propulsion control system, and electro-mechanical rotor actuators.
After further development and once the mission equipment has been
installed, it is expected to be utilized in various fields such as
surveillance and reconnaissance.
The KUS-VH, which can stay airborne for 6 hours
and carry a payload of 440 kilograms, can also be used
to move the domestic supply of goods, coping with not only
military demands but civilian ones too.
“With the first flight of the 500MD unmanned
helicopter, we demonstrated our unmanned helicopter technology. We
also expect to extend this technology to other helicopters,
including the UH-1H and UH-60, as well as to fixed-wing fighters,
such as the F-5,” said Mr. Jong-koo Kang, Director of Korean Air’s
Aerospace Research Institute. “We will continue our efforts to
develop unmanned helicopters that can enter into not only domestic
but also overseas markets, by actively and continuously
incorporating user requirements.”
Korean Air combined its UAV technology with
rotary wing unmanning technology to modify 500MDs no longer used
by the Korean Army. While a number of unmanned helicopters such as
Boeing’s Little Bird, Sikorsky’s unmanned UH-60, are developed as
OPV configurations, Korean Air’s KUS-VH was designed to be
completely unmanned from the initial stage to minimize the unit
cost for mass-production.
Meanwhile, by launching 500MD military
helicopters for the first time in Korea in 1976, Korean Air
started the era of aircraft manufacturing. The company supplied
F-5 fighters (Jegong-Ho) to the Republic of Korea Air Force, and
UH-60 helicopters to the Korean army. The company produced 500MD
helicopters from 1976 to 1988, and exported about 500 fuselages
Through continuous investment in the UAV market
since the late 1990s, Korean Air has evolved into a leader of
the nation’s UAV industry, introducing various platforms such as
tactical-reconnaissance UAV, MALE reconnaissance UAV,
low-observable tailless UAV and VTOL UAVs such as Tilt-Rotor,
500MD unmanned helicopter, and hybrid-propulsion drone.