Bell OH-58 Kiowa: An Ode to the US Army’s Sprightly Scout Helicopter

Au-Yeong Soong-Kong
18 min readApr 20, 2022

In the age of spear and sword, light cavalry forayed ahead of the infantry and heavy cavalry to bring tidings on the enemy’s whereabouts to the commander. Without radios or line of sight in complex terrain, mounted scouts were essential for detecting a hostile approach to a marching army’s flanks and rear so that they may be forewarned to orient themselves to face the threat in time; this function is called ‘screening’ or ‘security’. A third function of light cavalry was ‘skirmishing’ — exchanging blows with the enemy to test their responses. Though horses have given way to motor vehicles, helicopters and unmanned aerial systems equipped with radios and data sharing modems, the US Army still designates some combined arms formations that perform scouting, screening and skirmishing as ‘cavalry’. Central to modern US cavalry squadrons after the Vietnam War till its retirement in 2017 was Bell’s petite light helicopter, the Bell OH-58 Kiowa.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

The Kiowa’s career in the US Army began as a second chance tale. In 1960, the Light Observation Helicopter (LOH) competition was announced to procure a replacement for the Bell OH-13 Sioux and Hiller OH-23 Raven. These two aircraft were adequate for training and medical evacuation in Korea but struggled with piston engines offering a maximum output of 250 shp. All the LOH candidates were to be powered by an Allison 250C-20B free turbine engine. Apart from the primary observation role, the candidate was to be adaptable to medical evacuation, transport and light ground attack. Unusually, the US Navy ran the LOH tender on behalf of the Army. Three candidates were shortlisted from the original pool of twelve aviation companies: the Bell YOH-4A (Model 206), Hiller YOH-5A (FH-1100) and Hughes YOH-6A (Model 369).

Bell’s YOH-4A LOH contender. Prior to September 1962, the observation helicopter prefix was ‘HO’ rather than ‘OH’. Source:

The Navy panel favoured Hiller’s entry while rejecting the Bell helicopter for not being suitable for its secondary roles and expressing wariness for the Hughes candidate whose petiteness blessed it with remarkable agility at the cost of durability. The Army overrode the Navy’s decision, choosing the Hughes YOH-6A Cayuse for…

Au-Yeong Soong-Kong

Dysfunctional middle aged man attempting to chronicle weapons and battle vehicles from the USA, Soviet Union and Russia.