By Capt. Peter HathawayMarch 20, 2007
CAMP TAJI, Iraq, March 15, 2007 - Upon completing a combat mission, an AH-64D Apache attack helicopter from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, returns home.
The pilots complete a thorough, post-flight inspection when they discover a small hole and some peeled back metal with jagged edges in the stabilator, the tail wing of the aircraft - evidence of a bullet hole. It is apparent that the aircraft has sustained battle damage.
Upon hearing the words "battle damage," the aircraft maintainers of Company D "Bone Crushers," 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment "First Attack," 1st ACB, get right to work. Their mission is to minimize the time the aircraft is out of the fight.
This event occurred Christmas Day 2006. The Bone Crushers rapidly repaired the bullet hole in the aircraft's stabilator, and the Apache was back in the fight the next day.
"We're the ones that put band-aids on bullet holes and repair the stress on the air frame," said Daniel Capers, an aircraft structural repairer from Company D.
"Doing a repair on the aircraft like that can take a long time - it takes a pretty good team to get in there and knock all that out quickly," Capers said.
The Bone Crushers know their hard work is vital to keeping the Apaches in the air and, in turn, know how important airborne Apaches are to the ground forces, said Buffalo, N.Y., native Spc. Brett Bolt, an aircraft power plant mechanic for the Bone Crushers.
"The Apache is basically the infantry soldier of the air," said Bolt. "If our birds are down, that means (the troops on the ground) are not getting the help they need out there."
So the maintenance crews work hard to keep the aircraft mission capable. Maintenance and inspections are constantly completed in order to keep Apaches in the air.
But when an aircraft is damaged and cannot fly back to the forward operating base, someone has to go to the helicopter. That is when the Downed Aircraft Recovery Team springs into action.
"They are like a quick reactionary force, but for the maintenance aspect," said Capers. "They are the ones that go out there and do battle damage repair - just enough to get (the helicopter) up in the air and right back home."
The DART has flown to several forward operating bases in order to repair damaged aircraft. Each time the team removed and reinstalled a main rotor blade in under an hour, quickly getting the aircraft back into the fight.
First Attack's Armament repairers are another busy group of maintainers. It is their responsibility to keep the weapons systems operational - a never-ending task, but without operational weapons an Apache is ineffective, said Spc. Bret Gibson an armament, avionics and electronics repairer with the Bone Crushers.
In addition to repairing the systems, they ensure that upon return from a mission, expended ordnance and flares are rapidly replaced and the aircraft is ready for another mission, he added.