KIT: Aurora 1/72 AH-56 Cheyenne
KIT #: ?
PRICE: $7.50 when new
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Carmel J. Attard
NOTES:  

HISTORY

After the Vietnam War the army realised that it needed a dedicated armed escort helicopter to protect its troopships, conducting fire support missions for units on the ground after they have just escorted into the landing zone, and at the time of conflicts of the late 60s the Army had the requirement but not the resources. The Air Force on the other hand had the resources but none suited the task. Upon relying upon the Air Force's A-1 Skyraider, the F-100 Super Sabre  and the F-105 Thunderchief the Army felt that  it was being penalised by its sister services who had always resisted development of any organic combat  aviation beyond its grip. On the 1st of August 1964 the Army pressed ahead its efforts to expand its airborne combat capability by issuing a request for a Contract Definition Proposal for advanced Aerial fire Support System

 Although seemingly a strange field of design for Lockheed, the company was one of twelve which submitted to meet a US Army requirement for a heavily armed helicopter. Lockheed was to develop and build an initial batch of 10 based on its proposal under the designation AH-56 Cheyenne, a compound helicopter with a slender fuselage, short span wings, retractable landing gear and accommodation for a crew of two. It was powered by a General Electric T64-GE-16 turbo shaft engine, finally developing 3,925 shp which drives 4-bladed main and tail rotors, plus a three bladed pusher propeller at the tail of the aircraft.

 Flight trials began 21.9.67. Early 1968 the army contracted for an initial batch of 375 production aircraft. Development problems brought cancellation of the production programme on 19.5.69 and the programme terminated in August 1972 in spite that progress had been made which had demonstrated a speed of 253 mph and would have been armed with a cannon, grenade launcher or minigun in a nose turret. It also carried anti-tank missiles or air to ground rockets on under wing packs. The Cheyenne was true weapons platform and remains known for the advances it made in helicopter technology in speed, manoeuvrability and heavy fire power. Its role was to protect troop carrying helicopters and protect them in the landing zone. Although the Cheyenne failed to enter service this was due to potential far beyond the control of those involved in the programme. Still it changed the face of the Army combat helicopter forever.

The tragedy that initiated the end of the Cheyenne occurred on the 12th March 1969 when during a high speed test flight near Carpinteria, off the California coast, Cheyenne 66-8828 rapidly lost control and crashed into the Pacific half a mile off shore. A chase plane accompanied the flight at an altitude of 2,500 feet which recorded the flight. The main rotor at the time of accident appeared to oscillate out of control and the blades sliced into the pilot’s canopy and chopped off the tail boom. Following the fatal accident all the Cheyenne test flights were subsequently grounded. At the time of the crash the Cheyenne test flights had accumulated about 450 flight test hours, necessitating over 400 modifications and with consistent difficulties occurring with transmission. The problems were no more serious than those found at a similar stage in any test programme.

 After the termination of the AH-56 programme the surviving eight Cheyenne mat a variety of fates. One was displayed as a gate guardian by the Minnesota ANG for some years. Another at Fort Eustis, Virginia and later moved to new homes at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and Fort Rucker, Alabama respectively. A second Cheyenne is also in storage at Fort Rucker. Two aircraft and the ground test vehicles were reported derelict at Aberdeen, Maryland circa 1974. One aircraft is unaccounted for but also have met its fate in weapons test at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds.

 There is no doubt that the Cheyenne had a major impact on helicopter technology. The rigid rotor experience was vital and introduced into next generation of attack helicopters.  However like many other ultimate designs the Cheyenne never met its expectations and instead faded in obscurely. The attention turned elsewhere, towards a US Army Advanced Attach Helicopter competition in 1972 which gave birth to the AH-64 Apache.

 

THE KIT

This is an old kit that waited a long time for its turn to be built. This was bought with four other Aurora kits, namely a DH10, Learjet, Jolly green and a Skycrane. Aurora kits were till 15 years ago as common as Revell and Monogram kits at local shops. Although detail to these kits is far from what is on offer these days they still offered a good basic kit that one could add detail to one’s own liking.

CONSTRUCTION

 The AH-56A kit was an easy kit to fit and assemble and was made in such a way that one can put together in a matter of a few hours that resulted into a reasonable representation of the real aircraft. The first time I had seen a colour picture of the Cheyenne was when it appeared on a front page colour picture of the ‘Flying Review’. This was quite impressive depicting the shape that helicopters will take in the near future, sporting a host of innovations and giving the impression as being the ultimate king of the sky in any war zone. The rigid rotor also allows it to do aerobatics at will.

 The kit cockpit was sparingly detailed and therefore needed improving the instrument panel and careful paint work to the two crew figures. Although the cockpit canopy had thick plastic it was clear enough to allow cockpit detail to show. This also had the cockpit framing embossed so that this facilitated painting. The stub wings slid into the side fuselage. These appeared to have the correct shape although they were on the thick side and benefited by reducing their section thickness. The rotor head was too simplified with detail on it slightly oversize. The same goes for the landing gear which is made to be operable and retracts rearwards, a feature so much sought after in those early days in the hobby. Detail was added to the oleo of main undercarriage in form of links and hydraulic pipes. Gun barrel fitted to nose also swung up and down and this feature was left operable, and the front opening carefully drilled with a suitable small size drill. The two rear propellers were carefully cleaned from fins at edges. At the top of the main propeller mast was a four-armed control gyro linking arms to the prominent blade feathering arms. These were well represented and only required slight scraping, again to reduce thick sections. An inverted ‘U’ antenna was added at top deck aft of cockpit while a blade type antenna fitted under the fuselage. A centreline web made from 1mm thick stretch sprue replaced the oversize one that was integrated to the fuselage. This is positioned just aft of the engine exhaust outlet. The Cheyenne that I selected to represent also had later modifications added during the testing programme. I therefore added wires that connect the gyro arms that change their material frequency. These were made from four in number thin steel wires each 20mm long. The aft three bladed propeller which provided the bulk of propulsion at speed was also reshaped. When reversed it served as a powerful air brake. This was painted satin black and the tips yellow while the tips of the side aft propeller had the tips painted red white red.

COLORS & MARKINGS

Although the kit comes in olive drab plastic I had to apply a mix of olive drab using Humbrol medium green with a few drops of yellow added. Paint was applied in order to seal the seams and joint lines even though these required the minimum of putty and were almost a perfect fit. I built mine to represent machine No 1009 which was adorned with a beautiful mid fuselage day-glow blaze panel areas and also areas to wing tip panels. There was also slight variation to these areas between a Cheyenne and another when examining different pictures. Walkways and stencils in black were added using Xtradecal black decal strips. Main propeller was painted in black, green and dark grey areas as appropriate upon reference to photos. Micro scale decals provided the US insignias. A semi matt clear coat of Revell varnish was finally applied to the completed model. This was a mix of 50:50 gloss and matt varnish. Finally Maskol that covered the clear cockpit was removed. The kit was placed next to the Cobra and Apache AH-64 helicopters, types that certainly benefited from the previous development programme of the Cheyenne.

CONCLUSIONS

The Aurora Cheyenne kit certainly served as a good base to make me build a more accurate representation. I forgot all about the sentimental / collector value. Having arrived to a pleasing result I shall treat the other Aurora 1/72 scale kits: the HH3, DH10, Learjet and Skycrane in the same manner as in my opinion the modeller’s aim is to have a kit built as true in every detail and scale, made to the best of one’s own ability.

REFERENCES

 1 Wings of Fame, Volume 14

 2 The Encyclopaedia of World Aircraft

Carmel J. Attard

August 2007

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