REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (WHNT) - Hundreds of people gathered for a big celebration Tuesday morning on Redstone Arsenal, cheering on old war-fighting equipment given new life with upgrades to better protect troops in battle.
With lots of fanfare and admiration, the new OH-58F Kiowa Warrior Helicopter landed at Redstone Arsenal.
A crowd of 400 turned out to watch it be christened, even though it was first assembled in the late 1980's.
Now, it has new life and love due to upgrades with the newest technology to help Army pilots uphold their mantra: to protect the guys around them.
"With this aircraft, we can stay close to the ground, we can maintain actually eye contact with the troops on the ground and can actually employ this weapons system...all the weapons we have on board the aircraft very accurately in support of those ground troops," said U.S. Army Colonel Robert Grigsby.
This aircraft replaces one of 50 Army officials say have been lost since 9/11.
It was manufactured by Bell Helicopter in Texas and modified by workers in Meridianville.
"We've seen an influx in about $30 million in the local economy over the years in support of this program," said Grigsby.
Army officials say, overall, the program of upgrading old helicopters built in the late 80's with new cockpits and sensors is saving the country nearly $600-million.
More important than that, the new devices are saving the lives of troops on the battleground by giving their comrades a new vantage point.
"It allowed us to look down as well as track targets as we flew over the top of them so we didn't lose contact with them," said Grigsby. That's an improvement from before, when pilots couldn't look straight down and see directly under them.
There are six of the upgraded helicopters now in service and the Army plans to release one chopper each month until the fleet is back up to 368 helicopters.
Three of the choppers were assembled by workers in Meridianville, but now the Army is transferring that work to Corpus Christi Army Depot in Texas in order to save more costs.