On July 9 at 1 p.m., eight pilots with the 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment, flew OH-58C Kiowa helicopters in a double “V” formation over the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk for the aircrafts’ final flight at JRTC and Fort Polk. The Kiowas have been replaced by the UH-72 Lakota. Although the Kiowas are being retired, like many old Soldiers, they will continue to serve in places such as sheriff’s offices in Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Although three of the birds will be cannibalized for parts, eight will be used for police work.
Capt. Tyler Smith, commander, Bravo Company “Gators,” 1st Batallion, 5th Aviation Regiment, said there is a bit of nostalgia with the departure of the Kiowas, which have been a part of Fort Polk since the early 1980s. Smith said a good way to compare the Kiowa and Lakota was to think about a Toyota Corolla and Porsche. And one — tail No. O-16696, the oldest operational aircraft in the Army’s inventory — will remain at the JRTC and Fort Polk and set up as a static display, giving newly arriving Soldiers and their Families a glimpse of 5th Aviation history.
The OH-58 Kiowa is a family of single-engine, single-rotor, military helicopters used for observation, utility and direct fire support and has been in continuous Army service since 1969. Bell Helicopter manufactured the OH-58 for the United States Army based on its Model 206A JetRanger helicopter. The latest model, the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, is primarily operated in an armed reconnaissance role in support of ground troops. The OH-58 has been exported to Austria, Canada, Croatia, the Dominican Republic, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, and Greece. It has also been produced under license in Australia.
At Fort Polk, the OH-58s have been in use since the 1980s, and were used to fly Joint Readiness Training Center(JRTC) Operations Group Observer, Controller/Trainers as they monitored units participating in the crucible that is the “Box.” But times change, advances in technology are made and missions evolve. Thus, the Kiowas were replaced Army wide by the Lakota. The OH-58 was in continuous U.S. Army service from 1969 to 2017, when it was replaced in these roles by the Boeing AH-64 Apache and Eurocopter UH-72 Lakota.