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NorthStar turns commercial helo into gunship

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    NorthStar

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    NorthStar

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    NorthStar

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    NorthStar

U.S. helicopter pilots and maintainers couldn’t stop gawking at NorthStar Aviation’s new light-attack helicopter, the 407MRH, at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual conference.

“This is amazing,” Spc. Jessica Sanford, 26, an unmanned aerial vehicle maintainer who previously worked on OH-58 Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopter, gushed on Tuesday at the event, known as Quad A.

The Abu Dhabi-based company took a standard commercial Bell 407GH helicopter and transformed it with state-of-the-art sensors, electronic avionics and weapons systems to create the 407MRH, according to Adam Gunn, the company’s technical director.

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The platform can perform any number of missions — from light attack to close air support to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — thanks in part to the FLIR 260HLD electro-optical/infrared sensor beneath the nose, a four-station weapons set-up beneath the wings and an electronic mission-management system in the cockpit.

It also features night-vision compatible interior and exterior lighting, meaning those without night-vision goggles can’t see the illumination.

The price tag: $9 million. “Not everybody has $80 million to buy an Apache,” Gunn explained.

The company, which is owned by a member of the United Arab Emirates’ royal family, has a contract to supply the UAE armed forces with 30 aircraft. It has already delivered two production models and plans to deliver about one a month through 2016. (The model on display was a prototype that was flown from the company’s hangar in Florida.) It has received interest at the show from potential customers in Europe, South America and the Middle East, Gunn said.

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Sanford, the soldier, said she liked the fact that there was so much room in the front of the cockpit. She once had to squeeze under the chin bubble compartment in a Kiowa to replace a radar component that failed. Another time, one of the maintainers had to crawl up on the top of the aircraft to replace a sensor payload.

“Everything is so clear and easy to access,” she said.