ILLESHEIM ARMY AIRFIELD, GERMANY — To keep a U.S. Army AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter operational requires a large team of trained professionals. Skilled Soldiers trained to maintain, arm and fuel these helicopters work day and night to ensure the aircraft are ready at a moment’s notice. Only a select few of the maintenance team are afforded the opportunity to experience the lethal power and majestic grace of the Apache in flight.
Ghost Rider pilots wanted to change that.
In recognition of their outstanding efforts in maintaining the readiness of the Apaches of Charlie Company, 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, a mechanic, an armament technician, and a crew chief strapped into the gunner’s seat of the aircraft that they had spent so many hours making ready.
“We had three incentive flights today,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Cody James Clinebell, a platoon leader with Charlie Company, 1-1, 1st CAB. “The three that we chose today are some of our hardest workers in the company.”
Apache helicopters receive phased maintenance after every 500 hours of flight. This intensive maintenance cycle is critical to keeping the aircraft ready and the crews safe.
“I repair the helicopter,” said U.S. Army Cpl. Folkert-Champ S. Bucani, an attack helicopter repairer with Charlie Company, 1-1, 1st CAB. “I have done three 500-Phase maintenance cycles on this aircraft. We take apart everything from front to tail, we take out everything from the rotor heads to the weapons, inspect it, and put it all back together.”
It is a job that requires technical understanding and dedication to detail. The maintainers develop a certain degree of ownership with the aircraft they work on.
“I’m very proud of working on this helicopter,” Bucani said. “Every helicopter I’ve worked with, it flew; it came back and nothing dangerous has happened.”
The brigade is currently deployed in support of Atlantic Resolve. The 1st CAB is a rotational force that provides aviation support capabilities to U.S. Forces and partner nations across the European theater. The operational tempo required of the brigade means that the mechanics of the company adhere to a demanding schedule.
“The maintainers of this aircraft work day and night,” Clinebell said. “We actually have a day shift and a night shift, and we are the only unit out here at Illesheim with a night shift that works through the night maintaining these aircraft.”
The leadership of the company worked hard to get the incentive flights approved for the Soldiers identified as high performers in the company. They see it as an important aspect to building the morale of these team players.
“Today’s flight was very exciting,” Bucani said. “This is the first time I’ve done it. I loved it, going up, cruising in the air, handling the flight controls. It was really amazing, a great experience I won’t forget.”
To fly in the Apache is a rare opportunity. It is a special recognition for those Soldiers who have shown leadership in their sections and demonstrated exceptional commitment to the readiness of these aircraft.
“Out of all the aircraft in the Army, this is one of the only ones where the maintainers work day and night on this aircraft, but they never get the actual privilege of touching the sky,” Clinebell added. “That’s why it’s so special today with these incentive flights that these crew chiefs get to taste the sky after all their hard work with these aircraft.”