Ceremonies held on Nov. 2, 2011, at The Boeing Company facility in Mesa, Ariz., marked the delivery of the first AH-64D Apache Block III multi-role attack helicopter to the U.S. Army.
With its first official flight in prototype form occurring on July 9, 2008, the Apache Block III incorporates 26 new technologies designed to enhance the aircraft’s capabilities. The improved drive system features a new split-torque face gear transmission that increases power capability to 3,400 shaft horsepower. The new composite main rotor blade accommodates that power increase, resulting in improved aircraft performance with increased payload. Integrating the T700-GE-701D engine with the enhanced digital electronic control unit and other drive system technologies results in an increase in hover ceiling altitude at greater gross weight on a 95 degree Fahrenheit day.
“Today marks a tremendous milestone in the program,” observed Col. Shane Openshaw, U.S. Army Apache project manager, following the ceremony. “This successful development program that has been on schedule and on cost from the beginning has delivered its first aircraft officially.”
Noting that two of the Block III aircraft were delivered on November 2 – the second aircraft delivered a few weeks ahead of schedule – Openshaw offered, “Block III is the effort to keep the Apache ready today and relevant for tomorrow. It is a more powerful aircraft; more agile; more flexible; more capable aircraft than Apache is today – which is hard to imagine, but it really sets the conditions to keep this aircraft in the fleet and relevant for a long time.”
Dave Koopersmith, vice president of Boeing Attack Helicopter Programs, echoed Openshaw’s comments by characterizing the Block III delivery milestone as “A great day for the soldier; a great day for the Boeing Company; a great day for all of our supplier teammates.”
Koopersmith noted that the program was envisioned six years ago and that the original cost and schedule baseline had been met with a schedule performance of .98 and a cost performance of .99 – “with the capabilities that were intended.”
“It is just a remarkable tribute to the Army team and the industry partnership that allowed this tremendous achievement to occur today,” he said. “We are incredibly proud and privileged to serve our Army customers.”
“At the end of the ceremony today I was speaking to the standardization instructor pilot,” offered Lt. Col. Dan Bailey, U.S. Army Apache Block III program manager. “He is the senior warrant officer of the first unit equipped, which will be at Fort Riley, Kan. And as we spoke I can’t tell you how excited he was that his unit is already beginning to build their techniques and procedures to use the capabilities of the Block III. I think that tells you a lot of what the Army is already anticipating for Block III and what they are looking to take to our next warfight.”
“The UAS connectivity and the network connectivity that the Block III brings will really launch us into the next decade of warfighting capabilities,” he added. “I also had the privilege of flying the aircraft myself several weeks ago. And having flown the Apache since 1992 – early ‘A’ model days – I used to say the Block III was the sports car like the legacy Apache was the sedan.’ Well, I have a different description now. As I flew that Block III aircraft what I thought about most was that it was like flying an ‘Appaloosa Stud.’ I used to break horses when I was young, and flying the Block III is truly like trying to hold back that Appaloosa Stud – he always wants to go. This aircraft is so much faster and stronger than any Apache in the past, and it is really going to make a difference to our Army and to our soldiers.”
Boeing will produce 51 AH-64D Apache Block III helicopters for the Army under Low Rate Initial Production. The Army’s acquisition objective stands at 690 Apache Block III aircraft.
In addition, a growing number of defense forces worldwide have contracted for, or are considering, upgrading to or adding the Apache Block III to their rotorcraft fleets.
“Over the past few days we have been able to conduct some‘customer flights in the Apache Block III,” noted Mike Burke, Boeing director of Attack Helicopters Business Development. “And like we had anticipated for the past several months, we believe that the Block III Apache is probably going to be the most popular model of Apache in our international fleets. A number of customers are still here that we are going to give demonstration rides to and I think that over the next several months you are going to see great demand for this aircraft among international forces. Our allies around the world are also fielding this kind of capability in their forces. And as it grows inside U.S. Army forces it is just going to make those who defend freedom around the world better and stronger and more capable.”
The first unit to receive the Apache Block III – 1st Battalion, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division – will begin receiving aircraft at Fort Riley in the next few months with five aircraft (platforms number 3 – 7) slated to participate in initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) in several months [platforms 1 and 2 will replace the Block III prototypes now being used for testing].
Following IOT&E, the unit is scheduled to become “fully mission capable” during the first quarter of FY13, with Openshaw stating that “The Army will soon deploy that unit after they are initially capable.”