MD 500E – Evading Sanctions

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MD 500E



The MD 500 is a light civilian and military helicopter designed by McDonnell Douglas (and Hughes Helicopters, before 1984 when they were sold to McDonnell Douglas). Following the US Army’s requirement for a Light Observation Helicopter (LOH) in the early 1960s, Hughes submitted their design, known as the Model 369. It would end up entering service with the US as the OH-6 Cayuse, with 1420 being built. The OH-6 remains in service to this day with the Spanish Navy, Japanese Army, as well as with multiple police departments in the US.

At the same time, Hughes was working on a civilian variant of the Model 369 – marketed as the Hughes 500 (until 1984, when they were all re-named to MD 500). The MD 500 was introduced in 1967 and has also had attack helicopters derived from it (such as the MD 500 Defender, used across the world (South Korea, Finland, Israel, etc.)), and once again, is still in service to this day in many different roles.

The MD 500D was an improved variant of the MD 500 / MD 500C, and included a better engine, a T-shaped tail, and a five-blade main rotor replacing the former four-blade one. The MD 500E was developed in 1982 following on from the 500D, and improvements included a pointed nose and more internal space for the crew. It was a generally small upgrade from the 500D.

In the early 1980s, McDonnell Douglas received an order for 102 MD 500 helicopters from the Delta-Avia Fluggerate – a West German export firm. From 1983-1985, 86 MD 500D’s and E’s (and 1 Hughes 300) were delivered to the company, supposedly for export to Japan, Nigeria, Portugal and Spain.

However, all of these helicopters ended up in North Korea. They had been smuggled in, and the company was a ghost company – a front with the sole purpose of getting the helicopters to the DPRK.

The MD 500E is a small and relatively basic helicopter. It has a five-bladed main rotor, seats 4 (1 pilot, 3 passengers; although in North Korean service this is likely 1 pilot and 1 weapons operator), and has a 420hp engine, giving it an okay top speed of 251km/h. While relatively underpowered, it has very good agility, as seen in-game with the Israeli Lahatut, which should have an almost identical flight model.

The MD 500s that arrived in the DPRK weren’t armed, at all. They were purely civilian models. However, at some point between their arrival (1985) and their first public display (2013), they were armed with 2 9M14 Malyutka ATGMs (known in North Korea as the Bulsae-1 or Susŏng) on either side, for a total of 4 missiles. This appears to be the only major modification. The Bulsae-1 is an MCLOS ATGM with 400mm of penetration, a 3km launch range, and a maximum speed of 140m/s.

It’s unclear how many are armed of the original 86 – many are still used in air shows with no weapons attached.

This unique and somewhat odd variant of the MD 500 would be a fun starting helicopter for either a North Korean branch of the Chinese heli tree, or in a United Korean helicopter tree. I suggest a BR of around 7.7, especially as the ATGMs are MCLOS and the aircraft has no secondary armament.

Crew: 2
Length: 30ft 8in / 9.35m
Height: 8ft 4in / 2.54m
Empty Weight: 1481lbs / 0.7t
Powerplant: Allison 250-C20B, 420hp
Maximum Speed: 136 knots / 251 km/h
Maximum Rate of Climb: 1770 ft / 540m per minute
Service Ceiling: 16,000ft / 4876m
Weaponry: 4x 9M14 ATGMs

  • 3km launch range
  • 400mm penetration
  • 140m/s







How Did North Korea Acquire American-Made Helicopters? | The National Interest
Flying colors: A dispatch from North Korea’s first-ever air show | NK News
North Korea’s (illegally supplied) armed Hughes 500E helicopters emerge after 30 years in the dark - The Aviationist
Little Birds in Nord Korea | SOBCHAK SECURITY - est. 2005
MCDONNELL DOUGLAS 500E Specifications, Cabin Dimensions, Performance


A great option for either tree. +1

1 Like

+1, for a United Korean tree


+1; would like more north korean vehichles

Not until they add a Korean tree so there aren’t any orphans in other nations.

It appears to be equipped with an AGS-30 grenade launcher as self-defense armament.

Yes, that is believed to be an AGS-30. I don’t believe they have been seen with both the missiles and the grenade launcher though (although it would be possible).

There are a couple variants:

  • MD-500E with 4x 9M14
  • MD-500E with 2x 9M14 and 2x 9M11 (only one example, seen once in 1990s, no pictures)
  • MD-500E with AGS-30

“…during the parade for the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in 2013, all MD-500s were still outfitted with the older Malyutka ATGMS. Although most of the 70+ MD-500s used by the military are expected to be used in the light anti-tank role, numerous examples continue to make appearances at exercises and air shows without any armament, or equipped with hardware such as sighting devices or what appears to be a grenade launcher pod under the fuselage.”

  • The Armed Forces of North Korea: On the Path of Songun

Interestingly, the few MD-500Ds were also equipped with 9M14s but had them horizontally, rather than vertically stacked like on the 500E.


Kim Jong-Il inspecting an MD-500 with the missiles attached. Nice close-up of the mounts

Scratch that no images part: