Operational flight testing of the first 14 of 50 Apache AH-64E attack helicopters has been started at Wattisham Flying Station in the UK by the British Army.
The AH-64E is the sixth version of the helicopters and will replace the Apache Mk.1, which has been used by the Briths Army since 2001. The remaining 36 AH-64E’s are expected to be delivered by the summer 2024 and the first of this initial batch currently being tested are expected to enter service early next year.
The replacement of the MK1 with the AH-64E – built by Boeing and already in service with the US Army – was announced in 2016 as part of a US$2.3 billion deal.
The Boeing-built AH-64E features a new drivetrain and rotor blades to improve performance, improved sights and sensors, modern communications systems to share data with other helicopters, uncrewed aircraft systems and ground forces, and embedded maintenance diagnostic systems to increase aircraft availability.
3 Regiment Army Air Corps, part of 1st Aviation Brigade Combat Team will be the first unit to field the AH-64E, with engineers and aircrew going on training courses in the USA to prepare themselves to operate the helicopter.
Engineering checks and flight testing is being conducted by the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
Avionics supervisor Corporal Luke Salvatore leads a team of REME soldiers maintaining the Apache’s radar, navigation, communication, and sighting systems. He said, “To get ready for the E model we’ve gone out to the United States to do a four-week training package to learn about the aircraft and its systems.
“I find working on the Apache is very motivating – as an engineer I’m working with a really knowledgeable and well-trained team on cutting-edge technology.”
Warrant Officer Class 2 ‘O’, an experienced pilot who is his squadron’s flying instructor said, “I’m very excited about flying the AH-64E. It is more agile, faster, more powerful and it is going to allow us to support ground forces and other air assets much better.
“The interoperability of this Apache is vastly improved. We have better communications systems, better sensors, the fire control radar has been enhanced, we’ve got lots more radios and Link 16, which allows us to share data quicker and with higher fidelity to ground forces, manned or unmanned aircraft.
A 20-year agreement has been signed with Boeing Defence UK to maintain and support the new fleet. The new Boeing contract will cover aircraft design organisation services, maintenance, logistics support, plus pilot, maintainer and groundcrew training.
Boeing already has more than 40 employees working alongside the Army Air Corps providing training for the Mk1 Apache at the Attack Helicopter Training School at Middle Wallop in the UK.
The British Army has been using the Apache since 2005, with the attack helicopters used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.