Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A helicopter gunship is a military helicopter armed for attacking targets on the ground, using automatic cannon and machinegun fire, rockets, and precision guided missiles such as the Hellfire. Many attack helicopter are also capable of carrying air to air missiles , though mostly for the purposes of self defense. The Attack Helicopter has two main roles, first is to provide direct and accurate close air support for ground troops, it's second role is to destroy enemy armor behind enemy lines.
The Helicopter Gunship dates back to the 1960's when the French armed Piasecki H-21 's with rockets in their Algeria Campaign .
The first systematic use of the helicopter gunship was during Vietnam. With the increasing use of the helicopter as a transport, the US saw a need for Helicopters to be used as aerial artillery to support ground troops, closer to the battle. The US Army used a UH-1, and put machine guns, and folding fin rockets on struts parallel with the fuselage. This configuration worked well, but the Army felt that they needed a purpose built aircraft that could deliver more firepower, and the AH-1 was developed with a slender fuselage to make the aircraft a small target, among other improvements.
During the same period Russia, then the Soviet Union, saw the same need and equipped Mil Mi-8's in a similar configuration as the US Army UH-1's. This was eventually developed into the famous Mi-24 Hind.
During the late 70's the US Army saw the need of more sophistication within the attack helicopter corps, allowing them to operate in all weather conditions. With that the Advanced Attack Helicopter program was started. From this program the Hughes YAH-64 came out as the winner. The Russians watching US aircraft development, saw the need of a more advanced helicopter also. Military officials asked Kamov, and Mil to submit designs. The Ka-50 officially won the competition, but Mil decided to continue development of the Mil-28 that they submitted.
The 1990's could be considered the proving ground for the Gunship Helicopter for the US. The AH-64 were used extensively during Operation Desert Storm with great success. AH-64's were used the fire the first shots of the war, destroying SAM sites, with their Hellfire missiles. They were later used successfully in both their operational roles, as direct attack against enemy armor, and as aerial artillery in support of group troops.
The gunship was developed to its current form, in particular the AH-64D which some feel is the pinnacle of a high technology gunship, at least until stealth is fully brought over the rotary wing aviation. The Russians are currently deploying the Ka-50, and Mi-28, but at a command and control system level, they aren't as linked with ground troops as current American equipment. Which many feel is a requirement, since they are considered as support elements by most of the Armies of the world.
In the last 20 years USSOCOM has been developing the armed special forces gunship using the MH-60. To be used as an attack element, with Special Operators to do the clean up, or to deliver the operators, and support them on the ground. They were used successfully (to the chagrin of CINC CENTCOM) during the Scud Hunt.
The US Army typically uses observation helicopters (such as the OH-58, and H-6) in support of gunship helicopters. But it is starting to fall out of favor as the gunships are getting as sophisticated, or better systems than the observation helicopters deployed to support them.
Modern examples include:
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