KAL signs unmanned chopper pact

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KAL signs unmanned chopper pact

Korean Air Lines (KAL) plans to remodel its 500MD helicopter to the be the nation’s first unmanned aircraft.

At the Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX) held at Kintex, Gyeonggi, yesterday, Korea’s largest airline signed an agreement with Boeing to cooperate on development of the unmanned helicopter.

Under the agreement, Korean Air will be able to secure the technology to convert 500MDs that are owned by the Korean military. The U.S. company will provide the design and technology as well as test-flight support.

The 500MD was developed in 1963 by Hughes Aircraft Company and McDonnell Douglas. Between 1976 and 1988, Korean Air manufactured and supplied the helicopter to the military and exported 250 of them.

Although the Korean military still uses the 500MD, the government has been planning to replace it with the Surion helicopter developed by Korea Aerospace Industries. Full production started last year and 245 units have been ordered.

The military plans to use unmanned 500MDs on high-risk missions including reconnaissance.

Boeing in 2004 succeeded in transforming 500MD to an unmanned helicopter dubbed “Little Bird.” A Little Bird took a 20-minute test flight in Korea in December.

“With the agreement, we will be the first to secure unmanned helicopter development technology,” said a Korean Air official. “Once the technology development is complete, we plan to aggressively participate in turning the 500MDs into unmanned vehicles around the world.”

On Tuesday, Korean Air also agreed to supply winglets on Boeing’s next generation carrier, the B737-MAX.

The airline has been expanding businesses with Boeing and Airbus since supplying wing parts for the B747 in 1986.

BY PARK JIN-SEOK [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]

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