CAMP TAJI - Unlike crew chiefs for the CH-47F Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk, AH-64D Apache crew chiefs don't get to fly in the aircraft they maintain, despite their many hours of work.

This changed for 23 Apache crew chiefs in 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, U.S. Division-Center, when they were given the opportunity to fly in the front seat of an Apache Jan. 25 and Feb. 11.

"We got approval to allow crew chiefs and some aviation specialists who usually don't get the opportunity, to fly in an Apache," said Capt. Robert Holcroft, from Emmet, Idaho, S-3 assistant officer in charge, 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st ACB. "The reason we chose to do this is because other airframes (Chinooks and Black Hawks), their crew chiefs get to fly in those aircrafts ... these guys don't get that opportunity."

Major Gen. Daniel Bolger, commander, 1st. Cav. Div., established the incentive program as a way to give something back to the Apache crew chiefs who have consistently performed above average, said Holcroft.

"It's an amazing idea ... there's nothing better for these crew chiefs to build their morale," Holcroft said. "To actually have [Bolger] put that level of thought into it is amazing and I'm sure these guys would really appreciate him coming up with the idea."

While some chiefs selected for the program are still relatively new to the Army, others have been in up to 15 years without ever having the chance to fly in an Apache, Holcroft explained.

"Some of them climbing in the front seat for the first time are [senior noncommissioned officers] who've been working on this aircraft their entire career," Holcroft said. "It's an amazing opportunity and morale booster for them."

Each participant was flown by a senior Apache pilot around Camp Taji for 15 minutes, with all precautions taken prior to flying, he said.

"It's a two pilot aircraft and we've mitigated the risk by having our most senior aviator, (Chief Warrant Officer 4) Bill Miller, in the back seat of the aircraft," Holcroft said. "We've downloaded the armaments on the aircraft and the air tower knows we've got student drivers on board, so as long as Bill's heart keeps ticking, they should make it safely."

The flight was 15 years in the making for Sgt. 1st Class Keith Trulove, from Zion, Ill., a crew chief in Co. B, 4-227th, who flew on Jan. 25. He said the flight was a long overdue honor.

"I know my role as a crew chief, but it's always been at the back of my mind that maybe one day I could fly and see all the work I've done to get that aircraft off the ground," Trulove said. "For me, this is coming full circle."

Trulove said it has been his ambition to fly in an Apache since he joined the Army. He never expected the chance to materialize.

"This is an aircraft that's helped to stabilize Iraq and to be part of that, to be able to fly in this aircraft, is something special," he said. "I was humbled to be chosen because we don't complain about not being able to fly. So for this to come out of the blue is a pleasant surprise."

The flight was easily the highlight of the current deployment, Trulove said.

"I've done some things in my life which I consider notable and this is definitely up among them," he said. "After being out here for almost a year, today paid dividends."

Flying in the front seat on Feb.11 was Spc. Zachary Andrade, from Coleman, Texas, a crew chief in Co. A, 1-227th, 1st ACB, who said the flight was far different than flying on other aircraft.

"Just being in the actual cockpit with windows all around you and nothing blocking your view makes it feel like it's just you up there," Andrade said. "You can look out forever and see improvements we've made, like bridges we're building for the locals. It was nice to see that stuff."

Andrade said it can be frustrating not being able to fly on the Apache, which makes this program an excellent idea.

"I often feel isolated from other crew chiefs ... they get to fly on the helicopters they work on, so it's things like this that bring us all together," Andrade said. "Getting to fly up there and be a part of what the pilots do is not something we see every day. I wish we could do this more often."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16