Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne: The Incredible Attack Helicopter Decades Ahead of Its Time

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The Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne was poised to be the most advanced thing. It was a revolutionary attack helicopter killed by politics. 


The AH-56 Cheyenne was the end result of a long line of development with numerous precursor technologies and prototypes all playing a contributing role to this monumental aircraft. 

With all the resources Lockheed poured into its rigid rotor prototypes, the CL-475 AND XH-51 finally began to return dividends when the US Army launched the Advanced Aerial Far Support System. 

Thanks to Irv Culver and his team’s dedicated and extensive work on the XH-51, Lockheed had a big bucket of patterns and potential that could be the perfect helicopter for this program and thus work on what would become the AH-65 Cheyenne. 


The AH-65 decimated the advanced aerial fast sport system specification with a dash speed of over 400 kilometers per hour, a ferry range of 3,900 kilometers, and was able to hover at an altitude of 6,000 feet or 1,800 meters. 

It also featured retractable landing gear, wings that spanned 27 feet, and was powered by a General Electric T64 GE-16 turbine engine mated to a four-bladed gyro stabilized rigid motor that produced up to 3,922 horsepower.


It was also complemented with an exceptional weapon system- its main armament was a fearsome 30 mm XM149 autocannon mounted on a belly gun pod giving a full 360 traverse with advanced armor-piercing rounds.

The AH-56 was also exceptionally accurate with a 30 mm cannon that can consistently hit a 25 cm meter target three kilometers away. 

Fall from Grace

While all seemed rosy for this phenomenal aircraft that was years ahead of its time, a happy ending for this craft was not meant to be. Not even three percent of the initial order of 375 would be produced, with a mere 10 airframes leaving the assembly line before the project was ultimately canned. 

The United States Air Force senior officers hated the AH-56 Cheyenne. One of the key arguments used was the 1948 Key West agreement. The agreement meant that the Army could use rotorcraft for troop deployment and logistics. However, close support would be given by a fixed-wing aircraft from the Air Force. 

The Air Force argued that the highly advanced nature and capabilities of the AH-56 overlapped in their close air support role. Thus, per the agreement, such overlaps needed to be avoided to prevent the wasting of resources. They pointed out that they already have the Douglas A-1 Skyraider and the Fairchild Republic A10 Thunderbolt, and that close air support needs were already been adequately met by their aircraft. 


So, was the spin of the anti-AH-56 Cheyenne detractors good enough to kill the project? The answer is it did. In fact, the lobbying eventually proved to be too much which lead to the subsequent cancellation of the program by the secretary of the Army on August 9, 1972. 

This hyper-advanced helicopter which was once set to revolutionize the aviation world, found itself either scrapped or shipped to various museums across the US where they gathered dust to failed testimonies of what could have been.