Pilots train on new AH-64D Apache helicopter

FORT RILEY, Kan. — A new heli­copter is com­ing to the Block. The 1st Attack Recon­nais­sance Bat­tal­ion, 1st Avi­a­tion Reg­i­ment, Com­bat Avi­a­tion Brigade, 1st Infantry Divi­sion, is the first unit in the Army to have their entire fleet of Apache heli­copters replaced with the com­pre­hen­sive­ly upgrad­ed Apache (AH-64D) Block III begin­ning in Feb­ru­ary.

 Chief Warrant Officer 2 Shawn Witt lifts off in an AH-64D Apache Block III helicopter from Boeing's flight line in Mesa, Ariz.
Chief War­rant Offi­cer 2 Shawn Witt lifts off in an AH-64D Apache Block III heli­copter from Boeing’s flight line in Mesa, Ariz.
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“There are new com­po­nents to the air­craft — new head track­er, a new hel­met and new flight pages,” said Lt. Col. Edward Ved­der, 1st Attack Recon­nais­sance Bn., com­man­der. “It takes some get­ting used to.”

The Apache Block III incor­po­rates 26 new tech­nolo­gies designed to enhance the aircraft’s capa­bil­i­ties includ­ing an updat­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tem, engines, trans­mis­sion and dri­ve shaft. The com­pos­ite rotor blades have also been reworked to make them more effi­cient and pro­duce more lift.

“It doesn’t take addi­tion­al skills to fly it, but the air­craft is sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent,” said Ved­der.

Because of these dif­fer­ences the 1–1 pilots are going back to school and receiv­ing three weeks of train­ing at Boeing’s facil­i­ty in Mesa, Ariz., where the air­craft is man­u­fac­tured. The pilots get 28 hours of aca­d­e­mics, 24 hours in the new sim­u­la­tor and 8.5 hours fly­ing in the Block III heli­copter. Main­te­nance test pilots get an addi­tion­al 22 hours of aca­d­e­mics and three addi­tion­al hours in the air­craft.

“The train­ing is packed into a busy three-week sched­ule,” said Shawn Hopan, the train­ing lead for Boeing’s Apache pro­gram manager’s office. “We only train cur­rent­ly qual­i­fied Apache pilots.”

Even for the expe­ri­enced pilots like Ved­der, who has flown Apach­es since 1995, the new Block III took some get­ting used to.

“A Block II, it has a cer­tain lev­el of pow­er when you pick it up. This is total­ly dif­fer­ent,” explained Ved­der, who has flown in all three pre­de­ces­sors, includ­ing the AH-64A and the AH-64D Long­bow — Block I and block II, to the Block III. “When you pick this air­craft up you are going to imme­di­ate­ly feel the pow­er dif­fer­ence and when you go into for­ward flight it wants to go about 150 MPH.

“It has a lot of pow­er and is by far the most pow­er­ful and most impres­sive of them all,” he said.

While at the Mesa facil­i­ty the pilots not only became qual­i­fied on the new Apache, but also got to meet the Boe­ing peo­ple who designed and are build­ing the air­craft.

“It is an excel­lent oppor­tu­ni­ty to come out here and learn and see every­thing, (to) get to see the oth­er side where the air­craft came from,” said Chief War­rant Offi­cer 2 Shawn Witt. “You get to see the peo­ple behind the scenes, who put in a lot of time and ener­gy so that we can have this piece of equip­ment in order to do our job.”

The new Apache has a cou­ple added fea­tures which will allow Witt and oth­er Apache pilots to do their job in inclement weath­er. The heli­copters now have the capa­bil­i­ty to fly in weath­er con­di­tions that pre­vi­ous­ly would have ground­ed them.

“In the past if we had to get some­where we had to wait for the weath­er to clear. Now we have capa­bil­i­ty, much like the Black Hawks and Chi­nooks, to launch air­craft and fly in the clouds,” Ved­der said. “The Block III has an instru­ment pack­age that rivals a 747. It is fan­tas­tic and very intu­itive to fly.”

But the new Apache has the abil­i­ty to do some­thing the 747 can­not.

“The Block III is able to com­mu­ni­cate with unmanned air­craft, the pilots are able to see the UAV’s video,” Hopan said. “To my knowl­edge no oth­er air­craft has this capa­bil­i­ty.”

“Team­ing up with the UAV is essen­tial­ly anoth­er air­craft out there work­ing with us to give us a bet­ter angle, bet­ter pic­ture of what is hap­pen­ing,” said Witt. “This makes for a bet­ter sit­u­a­tion for the war fight­ers on the ground because we have more infor­ma­tion.”

But see­ing what the UAV sees is not the extent of this new capa­bil­i­ty. With a cou­ple taps on their com­put­ers the Apache pilots can take con­trol of the UAV, elim­i­nat­ing the time need­ed to tell the UAV oper­a­tor where the pilots need the UAV to “look.”

“It’s an extra work­load for us, but it is very work­able and man­age­able,” said Witt. “It is a real­ly good sys­tem that they have worked out here for us.”

Ved­der and Witt were two of the first 10 Apache pilots who went through Boeing’s class on the Block III. Five were from 1–1, while the oth­ers were from Fort Ruck­er, Ala.

The “Gun­fight­ers” have 70 Apache pilot slots and there are an addi­tion­al 15 Apache pilot slots in the CAB. They all need the train­ing before they can start fly­ing the new air­craft.

Sev­en­ty-five of these pilots will get their train­ing at the Mesa facil­i­ty, while the rest will be trained at Fort Riley by a mobile train­ing team lat­er in 2012. This train­ing sched­ule will ensure that all Apache pilots in the brigade are trained on the Block III before their next deploy­ment.

“The Block III gives us the abil­i­ty to get where we are need­ed very fast, much faster than we ever have before. And, with the inte­gra­tion of the UAV sen­sor we can be more informed when we show up to pro­vide lethal effects in sup­port of the ground forces,” said Ved­der.” It is real­ly going to change the game for attack avi­a­tion.”

U.S. Army

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