Boeing’s Aerospace Support Division at Williams Gateway Airport in Mesa has received a $12.2 million, 16-month contract to overhaul Apache combat helicopters that have been shot up, sandblasted and otherwise abused from heavy use in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The first refurbished AH-64A Apache will be delivered to the U.S. Army today after being rebuilt in an usually quick 58 days. Fourteen more Apaches and next-generation Apache Longbows will be repaired under the contract — part of a long-term Army program to keep the workhorse gunships ready for action.
The first repaired aircraft will be assigned to an Army Reserve unit and eventually will return to Iraq during that unit’s next scheduled deployment, said Lt. Col. Tony Potts, product manager for Apache modernization.
"Right now this aircraft is that fight," he told a group of Boeing employees Thursday, referring to the ongoing combat in Iraq. "When we can keep it flying . . . it just saves lives. Just it’s mere presence — they (Iraqi insurgents) are scared to death of this aircraft."
In addition to taking battle damage, mostly small arms fire, the machines had to endure the severe environment of the Middle East including sandstorms and temperatures reaching 135 degrees Fahrenheit on the flight ramps, he said.
Some of the damage, including bullet holes in the rotor blades and fuselage, can be repaired by Army sheetmetal workers in the field. But after an Apache has flown in combat for more than 60 days it is returned to the United States for a complete overhaul, or "reset." Some resets are performed by Army mechanics and engineers or civilian contractors at U.S. Army bases.
As an experiment, the Army has contracted with Boeing, the original manufacturer of the Apache, to perform reset work, and Potts said the Army is happy with the results. Normally the work requires up to 71 days to overhaul one helicopter, but Boeing completed the first machine in 13 fewer days, in part, because of incentives.
The first four of the 15 aircraft Boeing will repair saw action most famously in Operation Anaconda, an attack on mountain strongholds of the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan. They also were deployed in Kosovo as well as Iraq, Potts said.