EASTOVER, S.C. - Soldiers with the South Carolina National Guard trained on a new blade folding kit for the AH-64 Apache at McEntire Joint National Guard Base (JNGB), April 4-5, 2017.

The new kit reduces the amount of time, manpower, and resources needed to fold the blades of the helicopter to allow for ease of transport in a cargo aircraft, explained Bill Siegman, Apache Project Manager (PM) Office transportability manager. The current kit requires 10-11 Soldiers and a hoist to operate, while the new kit only needs 4-5 Soldiers and no additional equipment. The PM office observed the operation for the current kit then brainstormed on methods to improve the process.

"We're trying to improve on a system and make it easier on the Soldiers," said Siegman. "Once the Soldiers are fully trained on the new kit, it will reduce the time to fold the blades even more."

The training conducted at McEntire JNGB was the fourth and final test of the kit before it will begin production and fielding to Apache units throughout the U.S. Army and was the first time Soldiers conducted the training outside the test facility in Huntsville, Alabama. Siegman added, the South Carolina National Guard, 1-151st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion (ARB) conducted the original blade folding testing on the current kit, so it made sense to come back and have them test the new kit.

U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Church, 1-151st ARB, Bravo Company Apache crew chief, explained, being able to fold the blades of the helicopter allows for quicker and simpler transportation in a cargo aircraft because the blades do not need to be fully removed and transported separately from the aircraft. This expedites the ability to have an operational helicopter after transportation by unfolding the blades and being ready to fly.

The training consisted of folding and unfolding the blades multiple times to gain familiarity with the new kit before loading the helicopter on a C-17 Globemaster III from the U.S. Air Force Reserve 437th Airlift Wing out of Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. Once loaded, the cargo aircraft conducted multiple touch-and-go maneuvers at North Auxiliary Airfield in Orangeburg, South Carolina before returning to McEntire JNGB to unload the helicopter.

Siegman added, the training also showcased the importance of relationship building and partnerships throughout components. Not only did the Apache crews have the chance to train on the new equipment, but the Airmen from the 437th also had an opportunity for loadmaster training with the helicopter.

The Apache PM Office has a development and fielding plan to roll out the new equipment to units with the D and E model helicopters, focusing on outfitting the units with E models first.

"The new kit facilitates the ease of folding capabilities," said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Roy Sullivan, Jr., 59th Aviation Troop Command command sergeant major. "These Soldiers are seeing this kit for the first time and they are doing a great job."