Army takes latest Apache helicopter for a spin - East Valley Tribune: Business

Army takes latest Apache helicopter for a spin

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Posted: Wednesday, July 9, 2008 2:48 pm | Updated: 11:54 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The latest version of the Apache Longbow attack helicopter took to the air for a ceremonial first flight Wednesday with the U.S. Army's highest-ranking aviation commander at the controls.

VIDEO: Apache Longbow helicopter takes to the air

The latest version of the Apache Longbow attack helicopter took to the air for a ceremonial first flight Wednesday with the U.S. Army's highest-ranking aviation commander at the controls.

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody flew the prototype "Block III" Apache Longbow packed with the latest electronic gear on a short flight over Boeing's Apache assembly plant in Mesa and came back declaring the new machines will "change the face of the battlefield."

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They'll accomplish that by increasing the pilots' awareness of the battlefield situation and improving communications with soldiers and command centers on the ground, he said.

"It's all about the network," he said at a news conference after the flight.

Cody believes the United States will probably still be fighting terrorists when the upgraded Apaches come off the assembly line beginning in 2011, and they will continue to play a leading role in the conflict.

"The last thing that will come off the battlefield will be the Apache," he said.

Among the new capabilities that will be incorporated in the latest model will be command and control of unmanned aerial vehicles, which will give Apache pilots greater scouting capabilities. The Apache's two pilots will be able to see video provided by the unmanned vehicles and even remotely fire missiles from them at enemy targets.

The Block III Apaches will also be equipped with increased computer processing power to help the pilots make in-flight battlefield decisions; a new engine and power train to improve performance; and new main rotor blades made of composite materials, which give the aircraft more power at high altitudes in places like Afghanistan.

Boeing's Mesa works will build two Block III prototypes and test some components on three other existing Apaches. Assembly line production will begin in 2010 with the first aircraft delivered to the Army in June 2011.

Eventually the Army plans to upgrade 634 of its existing Apaches to Block III standards, which is expected to keep the Mesa plant busy until at least 2020. The work will be contingent on future funding by Congress.

The actual first flight of the first prototype took place on June27 over the Arizona desert with test pilots from Boeing and the Army in the cockpit. That machine - the one flown by Cody on Wednesday - contains just the new avionics and electronic equipment, plus software and unmanned vehicle controls.

A separate Block II Apache equipped with the new rotor blades first flew last Saturday.

The new power trains are still under development by a subcontractor, Northstar Aerospace, and should be ready in about 18 months, said Scott Rudy, Boeing's Block III program manager. All of the new equipment is not expected to come together into one helicopter until early 2010, but extensive testing can be accomplished before then, he said.

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