JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (March 12, 2013) -- Soldiers from the 1-229th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord became the first in the Army to field the latest version of the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, Feb. 21.
During a ceremony in the 1-229th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion hangar on Gray Army Airfield, project managers from Redstone Arsenal, Ala., officially turned over the first aircraft keys and logbook to unit commanders signifying the arrival of the world's premier attack helicopter, the AH-64E "Guardian."
The newest model of the heavily-armed, twin engine helicopter replaces the AH-64D "Longbow" model and integrates several new technologies such as more powerful, fuel-efficient engines, improved rotor blade technology and advanced electronics. The upgrades significantly increase aircraft reliability and sustainability by improving the Apache's range, performance, and maneuverability.
"The AH-64E provides an increased lethality and is a definite game changer on the battlefield," said Col. Rob Dickerson, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade commander. "It will certainly increase the brigade's capability to accomplish our mission."
Since January, 1-229th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, nicknamed Tiger Sharks, has received eight of the "Echo" model Apaches and is scheduled to complete its fielding by the end of April with a total of 24. Over the coming weeks, battalion flight crews will train extensively inside the aircraft and in Joint Base Lewis-McChord's AH-64E flight simulators.
Additional training opportunities later this year will further test the abilities of both pilot and aircraft as the Tiger Sharks prepare for upcoming rotations to the Army's National Training Center.
The new AH-64E Apache returns all the power margins lost as a result of adding more than a decade's worth of critical mission equipment packages, which made the aircraft heavier over time. The Guardian is the first Army rotorcraft capable of hovering at 6,000 feet with a full mission payload. The increased power gives pilots more control in high-altitude areas of operation.
"We are probably looking at the most powerful and fastest rotary wing aircraft in our army," said Dickerson.
Before the arrival of the AH-64E, operating in power-restricting higher altitudes often meant making a difficult choice between taking less fuel or less ammunition to the fight.
"The increased power will now allow us to stay on the objective longer and with more ammunition," said Lt. Col. Geoffrey Crawford, 1-229th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion commander.
In addition to being stronger than its predecessor, the AH-64E is faster and less constrained in extreme combat conditions. It has a combat speed of around 189 mph, about 23 mph faster than the Longbow. The Guardian will also turn faster and tighter, making it significantly more difficult for the enemy to outmaneuver the aircraft. The AH-64E can even operate unmanned aerial vehicles/systems remotely.
"AH-64E pilots now have the option to control nearby Unmanned Aerial Vehicles," said Chief Warrant Officer 3, Richard Crabtree, 1-229th ARB maintenance test pilot. "They can view UAV camera feeds, adjust their flight path and launch missiles at targets spotted by the UAV."
With its latest improvements, the AH-64E Guardian more efficiently operates as a safeguard for Soldiers on the ground. It has the ability to seek and eliminate threats that would otherwise be undetectable and/or indestructible from the ground, allowing units below to complete their missions.
"The capabilities of this new air frame give the Tiger Sharks the ability to be more lethal and at the same time more survivable," said Crawford. "It's definitely going to enhance our ability to support the soldier on the ground, which is why we exist."