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MD500 (Hughes 369D) Helicopter

Picture of MD500 (Hughes 369D) Helicopter

NOAA’s MD 500D helicopter is the smallest and yet the most versatile aircraft in the fleet. It serves as an outstanding platform for observation and aerial photography, often deploying aboard the NOAA ship DAVID STARR JORDAN for Marine mammal surveys in the eastern tropical Pacific (ETP) ocean. In addition to ship-based operations, the helicopter serves as a highly maneuverable platform for low-level surveys and remote landing site operations. It can be flown with the doors removed enabling unobstructed visibility from both sides of the helicopter. Picture of MD500 (Hughes 369D) Helicopter
The helicopter’s unique ability to hover and land virtually anywhere makes this platform invaluable to scientists working in remote areas inaccessible by any other means of transportation. The MD 500D helicopter is also well suited for marine sanctuary overflights, ship grounding investigations, oil spill surveys, hurricane damage assessments along with base security flights as needed in support of homeland security since September 11, 2001.
Picture of MD500 (Hughes 369D) Helicopter

This helicopter was added to the NOAA fleet in 1987 as a direct result of amendments to the
Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) regarding the high rate of dolphin mortality caused by yellowfin tuna purse seine fishery in the ETP. The MMPA tightened rules for U.S. fishing vessels which resulted in fewer dolphins killed as a result of the yellowfin tuna seining industry. Foreign fishing boats were not subject to the requirements of the MMPA so the U.S. Congress amended the MMPA in 1984 to tighten the importation requirements for fish harvested by foreign tuna vessels in the ETP. Foreign nations exporting yellowfin tuna to the United States were required to maintain a regulatory program for marine mammal protection similar to that of the United States. To ensure that tuna fishing vessels were complying with the regulations and that dolphins were protected, Congress appropriated funds for a program to conduct dolphin abundance surveys in the ETP of which NOAA’s MD 500D helicopter became an integral part.

The helicopter carries up to three scientists/marine mammal observers and has the capability for mounting aerial reconnaissance cameras on the belly for vertical aerial photography. Vertical photographs of dolphin schools are taken with the time, date, position, and altitude annotated on each one. The photos are later analyzed by the NOAA National Marine Fisheries scientists to measure the length of individual animals and to count the number of dolphins in each school. This information, in addition to ship-based observer estimates of dolphin school size, is used to assess the abundance of dolphin in the ETP and compliance by tuna fisherman.


Type: MD500 (Hughes 369D) Helicopter
Type Engine: Allison 250-C20B turbo shaft 420 Horsepower
Crew: 1 pilot and up to 3 Scientists/Technicians
Service Ceiling: 12,500 feet (without supplemental oxygen)
16,000 feet (with supplemental oxygen) 
Airspeed: Hover to 156 knots
Max. Gross weight: 3,000 pounds (1361 kilograms)
Empty Weight: 1550 pounds (703 kilograms)
Useful Load: 1450 pounds (658 kilograms) (fuel, personnel, and cargo)
Fuel Load:

400 pounds (60 gallons) - standard fuel load
160 pounds (25 gallons) - additional capability with the addition of one auxiliary fuel tank

Type Fuel: Jet A, Jet B, JP4, JP8
Fuel Burn Rate: 180 pounds/hour (~28 gallons/hour)
Range (normal): 225 Nautical miles ~2.2 hours @110 knots
Range (w/aux. fuel): 300 Nautical miles ~2.8 hours @110 knots
Dimensions (external): Main rotor span - 26.41 feet
Total length - 30.84 feet
Tail height - 8.9 feet
Dimensions (internal): 42" Long x 42" Wide x 36" High
Useable Volumes: Cabin - 30 cubic feet
Navigation: GPS receiver
Radar Altimeter
VOR with DME
Automatic Direction Finder (ADF)
Communication: Two VHF Radios (117-135 Megahertz)
Marine Band FM/VHF Radio (150-174 Megahertz)
Transponder with Mode C
Intercom System

Additional Equipment/Capabilities:

  • Cargo Hook for external loads up to 1000 pounds
  • Emergency Pop-out Floats for over-water operations
  • High skid gear for underslung equipment
  • belly to ground clearance- 2.4 feet
  • Helicopter is transportable on cargo airplane
  • Passenger compartment work station (table) with:
  • 12volt DC laptop computer power supply
  • Digital Radar Altimeter readout and RS232 computer drop
  • Magnetic compass
  • Digital Timer
  • GPS aircraft position readout and RS232 computer drop (Latitude/Longitude)
  • Crew and Cabin Doors removable

Drawing of MD500 (Hughes 369D) Helicopter

Drawing of MD500 (Hughes 369D) Helicopter

Monitoring Of Porpoise Stocks (MOPS) aboard the NOAA Ship David Starr JordanPicture of MD500 (Hughes 369D) Helicopter

NOAA’s MD500 helicopter operates aboard the NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean to monitor Porpoise stocks via aerial photography. The monitoring project was designed to detect changes in relative population sizes of dolphin stocks incidentally killed in the tuna purse-seine fishery. The helicopter supports the project by collecting photographs that are used to calibrate school size-estimates of dolphins detected by shipboard observers. In addition, high-resolution imagery allows scientists to document school structure and determine certain reproductive parameters.


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