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KIT REVIEW


Kitty Hawk #50003 AH-6J/MH-6J Little Bird Nightstalkers -- 1:35 Scale

The MH-6, along with the AH-6 attack variant, are light helicopters renowned for their role in United States Army special operations.  These versatile and multipurpose helicopters have played key roles in conflicts from the Persian Gulf ‘tanker war’ of the late 1980s, the U.S. involvement in Somalia in the early 1990s, Operation IRAQI FREEDOM and, current actions requiring their use.  Here, Kitty Hawk has released another kit in their growing line of helicopters, so let’s take a look at their 1:35 scale Little Bird. 

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The origins of the AH-6 and MH-6 date back to 1960 and a U.S. Army request for a Light Observation Helicopter (LOH) to perform transport, observation, escort, attack, rescue, and espionage roles.  The Hughes (later McDonnell Douglas) Model 369 was chosen and it became the OH-6 Cayuse with its first flight in 1963.  It proved to be an exceptionally capable and versatile design, setting 23 world records in the 1960s for speed, endurance, and climb and which still stand today – including a maximum range for a stripped-down airframe of 2,000 miles on a single tank of gas and a maximum altitude of more than 24,000 feet.  It went to Vietnam and began to replace the fixed wing O-1 Bird Dog in the FAC role.  Since its introduction in 1966, more than 4,700 have been produced.  It is more commonly referred to as the Loach (a phonetic pronunciation of LOH), the Flying Egg, or Killer Egg in reference to the shape of the fuselage. 

The tragedy of Operation EAGLE CLAW in 1980 illustrated the need for dedicated Army rotary wing platform for special operations (or black ops) missions involving attack, assault, and reconnaissance often conducted at night, at high speeds, low altitudes, and on very short notice.  The Army thus began to develop a special aviation task force and armed Loaches, which eventually led to the production of the AH-6 and MH-6.  The attack potential of the OH-6 was honed in these variants.  The AH-6 light gunship features the Allison T-63 252 SHP powerplant and can be outfitted with a unique combination of munitions, from machine guns to two 7.62 mm M134 miniguns, a single .50 caliber GAU-19 Gatling gun, 2.75 inch FFAR rocket pods, grenade launchers, and Hellfire and Stinger missiles.  The MH-6’s primary role is that of an armed insertion and extraction transport that can fight its way in and out of a target area.  With outboard "benches" designed to ferry up to three special operators on each side, the MH-6J can drop off and pick up people in tricky spaces denied to the Blackhawk helicopter.  Little Birds are operated exclusively by the 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) Night Stalkers based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  Little Birds have been a vital element in American actions involving special forces in Grenada and Panama, both Gulf Wars, Somalia, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan (supporting the raid on Bin Laden’s compound), and no doubt, places and deeds yet to be made public.

Historically, the concept of the armed Little Bird was validated by Task Force 160 aviators whose SEABAT teams of AH-6s and MH-6s played a key role in escorting oil tankers and attacking Iranian minelayers and gunboats during the Persian Gulf crisis of the late 1980s (for an excellent read on that conflict, I highly recommend the 2009 book Tanker War: America’s First Conflict with Iran, 1987–88 by Lee Allen Zatarian).  In Operation GOTHIC SERPENT in 1992, MH-6 Little Birds supported Rangers and Delta operators in Mogadishu during the ill-fated raid to apprehend warlord Mohammad Aidid.  Following the shootdown of one the supporting Blackhawks, an MH-6 piloted by CW4 Keith Jones and CW3 Karl Maier landed in the street next to the downed MH-60.  Under withering ground fire, Jones pulled two survivors (as many as they could take) into the Little Bird.  As Maier flew the MH-6 with one hand, he provided suppressing fire with his personal weapon with the other hand before they made their escape.  For such a small platform, the things the Little Bird and its crews can accomplish are often momentous.  

 

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Kitty Hawk’s 1:35 scale Little Bird kit contains 260 light gray injection molded parts on three sprues, 16 clear parts on one clear sprue, and 31 photoetched metal parts on two frets.  The instructions guide the build over 23 steps.  A single decal sheet comes with markings for four Little Birds:

Strengths: Before this kit, all scale modelers had was the Dragon 1:35 scale Little Bird.  Unfortunately, Dragon essentially repackaged their OH-6 Cayuse and called it a Little Bird on the box.  This meant it lacked a good deal of MH-6 and AH-6-specific details.  Here, this kit was designed from the ground up as a correct Little Bird.  It looks like Kitty Hawk has done a very good job here in representing this helicopter.  Surface details are a mix of very nicely executed recessed panel lines and raised panels and bolts.  

The kit contains a complete Allison powerplant, and the detail captured here is pretty impressive.  All that seems to be missing to my eyes are the wiring and hoses.  The engine compartment doors can also be positioned opened so that all that detail is not lost inside the completed model.  The cabin interior also looks great.  The cockpit is nicely executed, with the multi-function displays and crisply raised button, switch, and instrument bezel details (but no dial face relief, so the kit-supplied decals are effective to use here).  The cabin fire extinguisher is in there, too.  The flight crew seats are appointed with separate photo-etched crew restraints to a good effect.  Again, the flight deck doors are separate and be positioned open.

If you’re building the AH-6J, you’ll go with the weapons plank option containing the ammo boxes.  Munitions include two 7.62mm miniguns, one GAU-19 .50 caliber Gatling gun, one M260 seven-shot rocket pod, one M261 19-shot rocket pod (see below), and four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.  For the guns, the photoetched parts provide really nice flexible ammo chutes, and the guns themselves are built from plastic rod parts and slide into photoetched metal spacers so that the multi-barrel construction of the real thing is nicely replicated here.  There’s also a quartet of personal aircrew weapons in the form of two Heckler & Koch MP5A2s and two M4 carbines.  If it’s the MH-6J that’s on your bench, the troop plank seating with the rappelling frames are provided.

Externally, Kitty Hawk nicely represented the rotor blade droop seen on the Little Bird, but if you’re modeling any kind of in-flight diorama you’ll have to straighten those out.  The rotor head and tail rotor are both nicely done, and the external airframe details are topped off with a variety of air scoop intakes, antennas, and other small features.  The clear parts are beautifully made and optically flawless (Kitty Hawk always nails this element of kit making).  The small decal sheet is well printed and the carrier film is decidedly matte.
Though beyond the scope of this in-the-box review, it’s worth noting that Floyd Werner (my go-to source of knowledge of all-things-rotary-wing) reports that the overall fit is excellent and the kit goes together quite smoothly. 

Weaknesses:  This kit is fairly simple and not over-engineered in most respects – though in typical Kitty Hawk fashion, there are a lot of separate small (fiddly) detail parts, such as the separate handgrip controllers on the cyclics.

I can only identify a few issues in this kit. These are by no means show-stoppers, but they are important to note.  First, the AH-6J (and occasionally the MH-6J) are fitted with a FLIR turret that can be removed at will.  The kit does not include the FLIR mount and sensor, and if this system is not installed, the cockpit MFDs are also removed.  So, if you don’t model the Little Bird in this configuration, those screens are not used.  The silver lining here is that if you build one of the Little Birds in Somalia (as represented on the kit decal sheet), the lack of the FLIR gear is not a huge problem.  Only one of their aircraft had the turret but you might want to do a little research on which tail number that was.  Second, there’s only ONE each of the M260 and M261 rocket pods on the sprues, and there really ought to be two in order to provide a proper symmetrical loadout.  Also, the AH-6J has a downturned exhaust.  In this kit, you are supplied only with the MH-6’s straight exhaust, but I think this is an issue only if you choose to have the engine access doors open.  There are a few antennas that are missing, such as the sail antenna on the tail and the APR-39 blade antenna on the bottom.  Also, I can’t see anywhere in the instructions where the aircrew’s personal weapons are to be stowed.  I’m wondering if there should be a gun rack in there or if crews simply slung them over their shoulders.

My PE parts frets were a little bent here and there, and this could have been avoided by packing it against some simple cardstock.  It’s a breeze to flatten those parts out again, but damage while shipping should be avoided, such as how Kitty Hawk packs its clear parts in virtually indestructible rigid cardboard boxes inside the kit.  Protective packaging for the PE parts is easy and cheap.

Overall, Kitty Hawk’s AH-6J/MH-6J looks like a great kit of the Night Stalker’s Little Bird.  This is still a new kit, and I think we can look forward to additional aftermarket detail sets that will make this kit even more detailed and impressive.  If the kit decals are not what you’re looking for, Werner’s Wings has some Little Bird markings that might be of interest (though for the Dragon kit, they should fit here with no problems).  Werner’s Wings is also currently working on resin detail and correction parts for this kit including the downturned exhausts and the FLIR, so keep an eye out.  However you wish to approach this build, Kitty Hawk provides the best kit produced to date of the AH-6/MH-6 in any scale.   

Sincere thanks to Glen Coleman and Kitty Hawk Models for the review sample.  You can find out more and see their current and future releases at www.kittyhawkmodel.com

I also extend my thanks to Floyd Werner for sharing his thoughts and observations on the Little Bird that helped to improve the quality of this review!

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale

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