May 4, 2012

Aircraft Spotlight: AH-64 Apache Helicopter

by Marti Jaramillo
staff writer

The AH-64 Apache, the world’s premier twin-engined Army attack helicopter, was designed to be an extremely tough survivor under combat.

The prototype Apache made its first flight Sept. 30, 1975, as the YAH-64, and in 1976, Hughes received a full-scale development contract.

In 1982, the Army approved the program, now known as AH-64A Apache, for production.

In 1983, Hughes Helicopters Inc., won the prestigious Collier Trophy for the design of the AH-64 Apache.

In 1984, Hughes Helicopters became part of McDonnell Douglas. Deliveries began from the new McDonnell Douglas plant at Mesa, Ariz.

Between 1984 and 1997, 937 AH-64As were produced for the U.S. Army, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The AH-64A Apache entered service with the U.S. Army in 1984.

The Apache was first used in combat in 1989 in the U.S. military action in Panama. It was also used in Operation Desert Storm and has supported low intensity and peacekeeping operations worldwide including Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.

In August 1997, McDonnell Douglas joined with Boeing and they delivered their first AH-64D Apache to the Army in April 1997.

To reduce costs and simplify logistics, the Apache uses the same T700 engines as the Army’s Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter and its naval cousin, the SH-60 Seahawk.

According to Boeing officials, “The highly maneuverable and heavily armed, combat-proven Apache helicopter is today the backbone of the U.S. Army’s all-weather, ground-support capability.”

The AH-64 Apache has been developed since its inception using incremental technology insertions at regular intervals to ensure that the world’s most capable multi-role combat helicopter meets the needs of the war fighter today and in the future.

The first of the upgraded Block II Apaches were delivered to the U.S. Army in February 2003. Block II included upgrades to the digital communications systems of 96 AH-64-A model Apaches to improve communications within the “tactical internet”.

The combat-proven AH-64A is still in service and includes, two high-performance turboshaft engines and maximum cruise speed of 284 kph; Laser, infrared, and other systems (including target acquisition designation sight/pilot night vision sensor) to locate, track, and attack targets. It also has a combination of laser-guided precision Hellfire missiles, 70mm rockets, and a 30mm automatic cannon with up to 1,200 high-explosive, dual-purpose ammunition rounds.

The Apache’s 30mm automatic Boeing M230 chain gun fires 625 rounds a minute.

The Apache can be equipped with air-to-air missiles (Stinger, AIM-9 Sidewinder, Mistral and Sidearm) and the advanced precision kill weapon system, formerly known as Hydra, family of guided and unguided 70mm rockets.

According BAE Systems officials, the U.S. Army awarded them a development contract for the APKWS II, a laser-guided version of the Hydra in April 2006. Plans to arm the Apache with the APKWS II were shelved in the FY2008 budget. In November 2011, The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps recently successfully fired the first shots of the APKWS II from a UH-1Y helicopter, in preparation for fielding in 2012.

A total of 501 AH-64A Apaches were upgraded to AH-64D standard and delivered to the U.S. Army. Deliveries completed in August 2006.

The Block III System Development and Demonstration contract was awarded to Boeing in July 2006.

Block III improvements, slated for 2008 onwards, included increasing digitisation, the joint tactical radio system, enhanced engines and drive systems, capability to control UAVs and new composite rotor blade. The new blades, which were successfully completed flight-testing in May 2004, increased the Apache’s cruise speed, climb rate and payload capability.

Lockheed Martin developed the targeting and night vision system for the Apache, using second-generation long-wave infrared sensors with improved range and resolution.

The system is called Arrowhead and has a targeting forward-looking infrared with three fields of view, a dual field-of-view pilotage FLIR, a CCD TV camera, electronic zoom, target tracker and auto-boresight.

According to Lockheed officials, Arrowhead entered production in December 2003 and the first unit was delivered to the U.S. Army in May 2005. A total of 704 U.S. Army Apaches are to be equipped with Arrowhead by 2011.

Science Engineering Services Inc, is a partner to Boeing in upgrading the AH-64D helicopters to the Block III configuration. It performs the disassembly, inspection and repair of the AH-64D Apache helicopters.

According to officials at SES, the disassembly, inspection and repair work is done at the SES West Aviation and Integration Facility in Huntsville, Ala. The helicopters are then be shipped to Boeing in Mesa for incorporating the AH-64D Apache Block III.

The first new-build AH-64D was delivered to the U.S. Army in June 2007 and the first flight of an Apache Block III was in July 2008.

In December 2009, the maiden test-flight of AH-64D Apache with Block III structures was completed.

In October 2010, Boeing received a $247 million contract to begin Low Rate Initial Production for the U.S. Army’s AH-64D Apache Block III helicopter.

According to Boeing officials, the contract, signed by the U.S. government on Oct. 22, 2010, covered production of eight Apache Block III helicopters in the Lot 1 configuration.

An Acquisition Decision Memorandum signed by the Department of Defense Oct. 7, 2010, authorized the program to enter the LRIP phase to produce 51 aircraft.

The first production AH-64D Apache Block III was delivered in October 2011. The U.S. Army plans to upgrade all its Apache fleet to Block III standard.

The Apache Block III helicopter enhances the capabilities of the combat-proven AH-64D Apache by delivering superior flight performance and dramatically increased networked communications capabilities.

Key enhancements for aviators will include an improved drive system featuring the 701D engine; composite main rotor blades and a new split-torque face gear transmission, as well as increased networked communications capabilities.

The Apache Block III features open systems architecture and 26 advanced technology improvements, including level 4 unmanned aerial vehicle control for increased situational awareness. This helicopter configuration has already demonstrated the flexibility to rapidly integrate technology changes throughout its service life.

“The road map for the Apache Block III program has been clearly defined and the U.S. Army and Boeing are successfully working together to provide these advanced attack helicopters to soldiers in the field,” said Lt. Col. Dan Bailey, Apache Block III product manager for the Army.

“Working together throughout the Apache Block III program’s system development and demonstration phase since 2006, the Army, Boeing and our industry teammates have achieved our objectives on cost and on schedule,” said Scott Rudy, Apache Block III program manager for Boeing. “I’m confident that the team will continue to effectively apply its collective expertise as the program moves into the production phase.”

The U.S. Army has plans to acquire 690 Apache Block III aircraft.

The helicopters will be assembled, flight-tested and delivered from the Boeing Global Strike facility in Mesa.

“The Apache Block III helicopter program is the cornerstone of our U.S. Army customer’s plan of continued sustainment through modernization,” said Tommy Filler, acting vice president, Boeing Apache and AH-64 Programs.

The Apache is equipped with an electronic warfare suite consisting of: AN/APR-39A(V) radar warning receiver from Northrop Grumman (formerly Litton) and Lockheed Martin; Lockheed Martin AN/APR-48A Radar Frequency Interferometer Electronic Support target acquisition system; AN/ALQ-144 infra-red countermeasures set from BAE Systems IEWS (formerly Sanders, a Lockheed Martin company); AN/AVR-2 laser warning receiver from Goodrich (formerly Hughes Danbury Optical Systems then Raytheon); AN/ALQ-136(V) radar jammer developed by ITT; and chaff dispensers.

The AH-64D Apache Longbow, which first flew as a prototype May 14, 1992, provides a quantum leap in capability over the AH-64A.

The Apache Longbow’s fire-control radar and advanced avionics suite give combat pilots the ability to rapidly detect, classify, prioritize and engage stationary or moving enemy targets at standoff ranges in nearly all weather conditions. There is also an international Apache export version.

U.S. Army Longbow Apaches were to be fitted with the ITT AN/ALQ-211 SIRCM (suite of integrated radio frequency countermeasures) suite, however the availability of funding for this project was uncertain.

The AH-64D Apache and AH-64D Apache Longbow do share some characteristics, which include testing in the late 1990s, delivery in 1997, these aircraft have the ability to assimilate advancements in digital connectivity, sensors, weapon systems, advanced training devices, and maintenance support systems.

The AH-64D Longbow is armed with the Lockheed Martin / Boeing AGM-114D Longbow Hellfire air-to-surface missile, which has a millimeter wave seeker Longbow radar, that allows the missile to perform in full fire and forget mode. Range is 8km to 12km. The Longbow fire control radar incorporates an integrated radar frequency interferometer for passive location and identification of radar-emitting threats. An advantage of millimeter wave is that it performs under poor-visibility conditions and is less sensitive to ground clutter. The short wavelength allows a very narrow beam width, which is resistant to countermeasures.

Apache Longbow enhancements include, longer-range weapons accuracy and all-weather/night fighting, detection of objects (moving or stationary) without being detected, classification and threat-prioritization of up to 128 targets in less than a minute, integrated sensors, networking, and digital communications for situational awareness, management of the combat arena in real time, and digital transmission of images and target locations to joint operations battlefield commanders.

The Longbow Apache can affect an attack in 30 seconds. The radar dome is unmasked for a single radar scan and then remasked. The processors determine the location, speed and direction of travel of a maximum of 256 targets.

The AH-64D Longbow was deployed by the U.S. Army in Afghanistan as part of Operation Anaconda, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and, from June 2003, in South Korea.

In Jan 2012, The Lockheed Martin-Northrop Grumman joint venture, Longbow Limited Liability, was awarded a contract to deliver radars and data link systems for the U.S. Army’s AH-64D Apache Block III Longbow helicopter.

Under the $181 million contract, the company would develop and supply Block III Longbow fire control radar units, 18 radar electronic units, 14 unmanned aerial system tactical common data link assembly systems and spares to equip the Block III Apache fleet. The contract also includes options to extend the performance period from 2015 to 2017.

The FCR enables automatic and rapid multi-target engagement by the Apache and helps in detection, location, classification and prioritization of the target in all weather conditions over multiple terrains using a self-contained Radar Frequency Interferometer. The radar is capable of easily integrating with the aircraft’s Hellfire missile, thereby greatly increasing its lethality and survivability, while the radar electronic units will reduce the size, weight, maintenance and power requirements of the radar system.

According to officials for Longbow Limited Liability, the Block III UTA will be integrated onto Boeing AH-64D Apache Block III helicopters to offer a two-way, high-bandwidth data link, which helps aircrew to control an Unmanned Aircraft Systems’ flight path, sensors and lasers at longer ranges and also provides high-quality UAS imagery on multifunctional displays. The UTA enables up to Level 4 control of a UAS equipped with a tactical common data link and can also communicate with TCDL ground stations to share UAS or on-board Arrowhead Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor system day/night vision imagery with ground forces.

Work on the contract, including mission equipment and spares production as well as engineering and integrated logistics services, is carried out at Lockheed’s facilities in Ocala and Orlando, in Florida, and at Northrop’s facilities in Baltimore, Maryland.

In Feb 2012, Longbow Limited Liability completed delivery of the first production UTA to the U.S. Army. The delivery follows completion of a six-year design and development phase by the company, and marks commencement of LRIP to field the UTA on Block III Apaches in 2012.

Longbow president and director Mike Taylor said, “The UTA provides Apache aircrews with increased situational awareness and net-centric interoperability, significantly reducing sensor-to-shooter timelines.”

The U.S. Army AH-64D Longbow Apache Block III Project Office has recently conducted a demonstration of the Apache Block III National Airspace trainer (AB3NAT), designed to enable collective manned-unmanned teaming training (MUM-T) at the campus of University of Alabama-Huntsville.

The AB3NAT is a flexible system that provides MUM-T training by acting as a surrogate trainer without restrictions associated with an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that currently have to operate in a restricted airspace following Federal Aviation Administration rules.

The MUM-T allows an Apache and OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter pilot to receive and process real-time video imaging surveillance from a UAS operating in theatre, such as in Afghanistan and also help control its flight path, sensors and cameras.

The trainer also provides options to the helicopter crew such as handing off UAS control to another air or ground-based crew.

The AB3NAT is capable of providing level of interoperability (LOI) 2-4 guide and also help pilot to direct unmanned aircraft 10kms -15kms ahead and maintain a great standoff distance from enemy combatants.

The system can either be used in its current configuration or modified for use on any non-specific army aircraft including the U.S. National Guard (USNG) LUH Lakota helicopter.

The trainer, jointly engineered, developed and tested by the AB3 project office, UAH, and the non-profit Momentum Foundation, will allow both individual and collective training when multiple assets are not organic to one unit.

Initial units of the trainer were to be delivered by the end of February 2012, followed by Initial Operational Test & Evaluation at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., during March-April 2012.

In all, 12 nations fly, have ordered or have selected AH-64D Apache helicopters for their defense forces. The Apache Helicopter has been exported to, The Netherlands, Singapore, Israel, Egypt, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Japan, Kuwait, United Kingdom and Greece.

By August 2004, Boeing had delivered 500 AH-64D Apaches to customers worldwide. These aircraft feature fully integrated avionics and weapons and state-of-the-art digital communications capabilities that enable real-time transfer of battlefield information. Its enhancements make it more survivable, readily deployable and easier to maintain.

In June 2011, Taiwan placed a $2.5 billion order for 30 AH-64D Apache block III helicopters. The helicopters are scheduled for delivery between 2012 and 2013.

The U.S. Army has ordered 690 Apache aircraft by 2026 through multi-year contracts and follow-on purchases.

Follow-on orders and upgrades will keep the Apache in production well into the next decade.

The first international AH-64D Apache was delivered to the Royal Netherlands Air Force in May 1998, and the first international AH-64D Apache Block III will be delivered in 2012. More than 300 new and remanufactured international AH-64Ds have been delivered or are in production.



AH-64 A/D/Longbow Apache Helicopter general characteristics

Primary function: Multi-role combat helicopter

Primary builder: The Boeing Company



Wingspan: 17.15 feet

Length: 58.17 feet

Height: 15.24 feet

Crew: 2 (pilot and co-pilot gunner)



Empty: 15,075 pounds

Operational: 16,600 pounds



Maximum level flight speed: 150 knots

Cruising speed: 150 knots

Ceiling: 21,000 feet

Maximum rate of climb: 2,915 fpm

Vertical climb rate: 2,175 fpm

Hover In-Ground effect: 15,895 feet

Hover Out-of-Ground effect: 12,685 feet

Range: 300 miles


Power plant

Engines: 2X GE T700 turboshaft engines

Engine power developed: 1,900-shaft-horsepower each



Guns: 30mm chain gun

Bombs/Rockets: Hellfire missiles and 2.75″ rockets



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