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Lethal Guardian: Fort Rucker receives 3 AH-64 Echo Models

One of the three new Echo-model Apache helicopters flies into Hanchey Army Airfield April 17. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

One of the three new Echo-model Apache helicopters flies into Hanchey Army Airfield April 17. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: April 24, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 24, 2014) -- The AH-64 Apache helicopter is one of Army Aviation’s most well-known aircraft, and is known throughout the world as the most lethal attack helicopter.

April 17, Fort Rucker welcomed the newest and most lethal to date – the Echo-model Apache. As the three beautiful aircraft hovered into their home at Hanchey Army Airfield on Fort Rucker, they assumed their new position of being the next generation airframe to take the next generation of pilots into combat.

“These birds are state-of-the-art when it comes to survivability, maneuverability and lethality,” said CW4 Vernon Schmitz, Headquarters Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Aviation Regiment.

“It’s in those three categories that the new Apache stands out from its older, but still very effective counterpart,” said Schmitz.

The new survivability of the aircraft allows the Army to better sustain the life of the aircraft at less cost than the older models, said Maj. Patrick Taylor, 1st Bn., 14th Avn. Regt. operations officer.

“The Army’s got a big push to get us on something called condition-based maintenance,” explained Taylor. “With condition-based maintenance, there are sensors inside the aircraft that read vibrations and frequencies of certain components, such as the rotor blades, to judge when they need to be replaced.”

Older-model Apaches rely on a manufacturer-set service life on parts and components to determine when that part will be replaced.

“Over the course of many years, (the Army) has been able to find out what frequencies and what vibrations mean under normal operation,” said the operations officer. “Now, if we had a transmission that had a (service life) of 2,000 hours – it might be good at 3,000 hours – we replace it because that was what was set by the manufacturer. With the condition-based maintenance, we can read the sensors and make the decision on whether we’re able to get more time out of the component, or have it replaced.”

Because of this capability, Taylor said that the Army could potentially save millions of dollars on the cost of parts for a single aircraft.

“When it comes to cost savings, the Echo model really shines,” he added.

In terms of maneuverability, the E-model Apache is seven times more maneuverable and provides up to two-thirds more station time, based on the ability to respond to troops and contact, said Schmitz.

“Most helicopter pilots … are really concerned with high-density altitude, how hot it is outside and how heavy the aircraft is,” said Taylor. “In Afghanistan, a prime example is when you have a huge, powerful aircraft like the Chinook that can fly over mountains and climb to 15,000 feet with less difficulty than other aircraft.

“Then you have other aircraft like (the Apache) that are heavily loaded with ammunition, and trying to keep up with the Chinooks and get over those mountains at the same time,” he continued. “There are instances where Chinooks will fly right over a mountain, and the D-model Apaches … have to spiral upward to climb slowly before they’re able to get over the mountain.”

Taylor said the E-model Apaches are better equipped to climb to higher altitudes by using more efficient rotor blades, stronger engines and a stronger transmission.

“An added benefit of that is the aircraft is now faster, so our response time to our troops in any given situation on the battlefield is shorter,” he added. “More efficiency also counts into fuel savings, so while carrying the same amount of fuel, we have longer station times.”

From the lethality side, there are new systems on the aircraft that will aid pilots defensively, as well as offensively, and also utilize unmanned aircraft systems as a platform to perform reconnaissance before engaging an enemy, said Schmitz.

The E-models also have a new system in place that will tell the pilots if they are being shot at and which side they are being fired upon from, even if the aircraft isn’t hit, a system that Taylor said has been difficult to implement in the aircraft.

Additionally, the system has seen improvements on its acquisition system for better response times, Schmitz added.

“On the acquisition system in any Apache, the 30mm gun will follow the pilot’s head. In the new system, when the sensors detect where the fire is coming from (they will) orient that 30mm gun to that side for a quicker response,” he said. “Sometimes our mission may dictate whether we’re able to suppress and move on because that little group isn’t as important as the guys we’re going to cover.”

Another significant addition to the aircraft is the ability for it to fly instrument-flight routes, said Schmitz, something that was not possible with the current avionics on the D-model Apaches.

“For us to be able to now go into the clouds and fly in those kind of conditions using navigational aids is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a huge benefit for us to have in our repertoire.”

“We haven’t had the capability to fly instrument meteorological conditions,” added Taylor. “If you had a bad guy at Point A and you’re at Point B, and there are clouds between the two of you, you couldn’t engage that enemy (in the older models). Now the capability is there.”

Although the new-model aircraft is a significant upgrade from its predecessor, the operations are designed so that D-model pilots are easily able to fly E-model Apaches, said Taylor. It’s in the avionics that the older-model pilots must be trained in to operate.

By the end of the year, Schmitz said that Fort Rucker should acquire a total of 13 E-model Apaches, but assures that the D-models won’t be leaving the installation’s skies any time soon.

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