Written by Dabney B. on Tuesday, July 31st, 2012
Whenever you mention the phrase “military helicopter,” there’s one aircraft that immediately comes to mind: the AH-64 Apache. And for good reason — it’s reliable, ferocious, and it packs enough firepower to send bad guys running for the hills.
But it wasn’t a coalition of genius military scientists or an international struggle for aerial superiority that prompted the construction of the Apache helicopter — it was red tape. Back in 1947, World War II had just come to a close. The US Army had grown too big for its britches, prompting the National Security Act of 1947, which separated the aerial component of the Army into its own separate branch, the US Air Force.
A short time later, James V. Forrestal, the first US Secretary of Defense, drafted the Key West Agreement to provide a formal outline for dividing up the responsibilities and the limitations of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. One of the restrictions that Forrestal placed on the Army was that it could not possess any fixed-wing aircraft. That delivered a major blow to the Army’s fire power. Not only had it just recently lost some of its heaviest hitters, like the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-29 Superfortress, but it was also forbidden from replacing them with similar aircraft.
Luckily, the Key West Agreement allowed the Army to procure rotor aircraft such as helicopters. They wanted to fill that gap in aerial firepower with a new helicopter that would be more deadly and maneuverable than the AH-1 Cobra. Manufacturers Bell, Hughes, Lockheed, Sikorsky, and Boeing submitted proposals for this high-value contract opportunity, but the sturdy rotor design and the reliable landing gear of the Hughes 77/YAH-64A prototype caught the Army’s eye the most.
The aircraft went into design shortly thereafter, and the newly-named line of Apache helicopters went into production during the early ’80s. This proved to be a purchase that has never prompted the US Army to experience buyer’s remorse.
When these flew off the production line, they represented the absolute epitome of helicopter technology. They were the first helicopter to utilize a helmet-mounted display and sighting system, which allowed the gunner to control the orientation of the main 30 mm automatic M230 chain gun by moving his head.
Anyone who somehow manages to survive the onslaught of 30 mm rounds will have a hard time taking down an Apache. The hull withstands 2,500 lbs of protection against ballistic impacts, a shield separates the two pilots so that at least one operator is likely to survive an engagement, and a clever self-sealing fuel system prevents the helicopter from spilling all of its fuel across the battlefield if a bullet ever strikes the fuel tank.
This front-line helicopter is effective at night with infrared capabilities, it utilizes passive infrared countermeasures, and it has a customizable weapon loadout for any combat scenario. Apaches can carry Hydro 70 mm rockets, AIM Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, Stinger missiles, and AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles.
To put it bluntly, there is nowhere an Apache can’t reach, and nothing that it can’t blow to smithereens once it gets there. The incredible success of the Apache AH-64 has made it a popular pick among many allies of the US. Greece, Japan, Israel, the UK, the Netherlands, and Taiwan are just a few of the countries that have written a fat check for the privilege of flying these beastly helicopters.
The first Apache took its flight in September of 1975, and these aircraft are still in service all across the world, 37 years later. There have been dozens of innovations in aviation technology since 1975, and Apache helicopters are still the lords of the skies. If that doesn’t make for an impressive résumé, then I don’t know what does.
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