AH-64 Apache

Vietnam. Probably one of the most famous wars in history, the war in Vietnam was a breakthrough concearning aviation technology and military technology in general.

US troops around the figure of 500,000 combatants sweep the Southern part of the country, below the 38th parallel to find and anihilate various factions of communist rebel guerillas known as Viet Kong and some NVA reggulars.

Probably the most efficient weapon of the war was the helicopter. At that time, helicopters were still relatively new and the US operate in Vietnam alone more than 20 times more UH1H Iroqoius (commonly known by the troops as "Huey") than all the countries of the world taken together (all the choppers ever built elsewhere).
However the Huey, being the first widely-used (combat) chopper had a lot of good and revolutionary characteristics (and was to my opinion and not only, one of the world's best engineering craftsmanships ever developed), but also a small array of deficits, like lack of field combat resistence (to ground fire) and insufficient weapons (even for the Huey gunships).
As such, the US Armed Forces decided to develop a new concept, called the "attack helicopter".

The first attack helicopter in the world was the Huey Cobra hibrid between the Huey and a funny-looking new design, which didnt lasted long as the real first attack helicoptered entered the scene after, called AH1 Cobra.
The Cobra behaved remarcably well, when used by the USMC in cooperation with special forces members from all the other weapons.
However, after the war in Vietnam, the Cobra now faced a new threat, the one of other country's newly developed attack helicopters, such as the Soviet Mi24 Hind.
Also, the technology totally changed since the Vietnam war and this was already the era of computers and guided missiles, laser targeting, etc.

So, the US Air Force and the US Army ordered a variety of US Defense contractors to build a totally new attack helicopter, unlike any other before it, which will have to satisfy a wide array of requests, among which the most classical ones are:
- field combat resistence ;
- damage resistence ;
- long range ;
- laser targeting capability ;
- anti-tank warfare capability ;
- ground attack and close-air support capability ;
- high degree of resistance to ground fire and inadequate flight conditions ;
- fast attack capability with the option of lerking around and study the enemy first ;
- high degree of crew survivability during combat, damage and eject,
, etc

As such many companies presented their models, but one of them, namely McDonnel-Douglas, appealed to a little trick in order to win the competition.
Everybody knows who Bill Gates is. Most of the people heard of the so-called Sillicon Valley in the USA. Well, McDonnel-Douglas appealed to a high nomber of Sillicon Valley software and digital hardware companies and proposed them to build the best weapon system they could possibly produce.
The result was an amazing and almoust "out of the sci-fi movies" array of digital devices, unheard of even in fighter jets of the era as the F-14, F-15, F-18 and F-16.
This new concept developed itself into AH64A Apache, designated Attack Helicopter 64 and nicknamed after a fearsome Native American tribe.

AH64A Apache

The AH64A Apache gathers a huge range of capabilities and incorporates a high nomber of technologies.
As the requests from McDonnel-Douglas stated, the AH64 Apache has a high degree of combat resistence and attack capabilities. Let's take a look at some of them:
For example, the AH64 Apache was the first helicopter in the world to incorporate the ejection system for helicopters. It does so by cutting the blades and blowing them into the air with the help of small quantities of high-explosible places right in the link-sides. That system is now copied to the majority of today's attack helicopters (and will be incorporated into other kinds of helicopters soon).
Anybody who ever saw an Apache ejection demo knows what I'm talking about and just how impressive it really is. The AH64 Apache also holds the record (even after so many years) of pilots' survivability in case of an enemy AAA, SAM or A/A missile hit, which is an astronomic 96.4 %.
Also, the AH64 Apache's "gearbox" can work for 40hrs non-stop without any problem in case it completly runs out of oil, a characteristic which I'm not aware of being incorporated into any other mechanical device available today.
Getting to the ATTACK capability, which is its primary and only purpose, the AH64 Apache comes equiped with a large array of high-tech capabilities.

The AH64 Apache was made during the years when Stealth technology was still a tabu in world aviation and a top secret research project in the US and the Soviet Union. As such, the AH64 is fully incorporated with Stealth technology right from its very design and concept.
The Apache is fully covered with radar-absorbing paint and its jet turbines are covered with heat-signal masks which are huge "fan-like" looking devices strapped to the nossels of the gas turbines and which cool down the hot air that is getting out of the engines and as such lowers the IR signature of the entire helicopter.
The Apache is also fitted with low-electromagnetical-signiture digital equipment in the cockpit, making it harder to be detecting on MADs (Magnetical Anomaly Detector).

The Apache's gas turbine twin-engines deliver each about three times more thrust than a classical Huey gas turbine engine, but the noise they produce has been specifically lowered down with several decibels and as such the AH64 Apache is one of the world's most silent helicopters, and the world's most silent helicopter of its size and designation in service today.
The Apache's roller-blades are also designed in order to maximize uplift and minimize the sound that is made when entering in contact with the air at speeds higher than 800 km/h. The blades' ends are especially shaped in a V-form which cuts straight into the blade-end's turbulences and minimizes the classical helicopter sound (if you heard a helicopter, almoust 90% of its sound its made by the "chk chk chk" sound of the blades hiting the air and the rulments which used to be mounted on the rotor in today's helicopter, feature eliminated at the new generation of helicopters either by making flexible plastic roller-blades either by completly eliminating the rotor and merging the roller-blades with the upper fuselage, the blades being mounted on a rotating disk strapped to the upper fuselage).

Weapons Systems

The Apache has a large array of weapons, but the usual ones are the Hellfire laser-guided anti-tank missile which has a range of 8km and can pierce an aprox. 1300mm of armour-steel quivalent, the new Hellfire II radar-guided anti-tank missile which has a range of 12km and which can pierce into an aprox. 1500mm or 1800mm equivalent of armour-steel, and the classical 75mm unguided rockets.
The Apache is also fitted with a 30mm armour piercing cannon (compared to the 4x20mm one of the Cobra and the 4x7.62mm one of the Hind's) which fires 578 or 600 rounds (depending on the model, loading, etc).

The Apache's cannon had at that time the unique capability of rotating on 15 degrees up, about 60 degrees down and 50-70 degrees left/right, based upon the pilot's helmet movements in the cockpit. This is achieved by a complex laser-trackers installed in the cockpit which constantly send laser beams from all the sides of the cockpit towards an imaginary "box" where the pilot's head is suposed to be. The laser beams can detect therefore the slightest movement of the pilot's head and with the help of a computer and a specially designed software translate that movement into figuring out the direction towards the pilot is moving his head.

From there another system takes over which analyzes that information and then sends instructions to the rotating cannon, re-directing it exactly towards the coordinates and direction where the pilot's head is orientated.

As such, the Apache seems as a live "robot" which is in a constant and direct real-time link with its "invisible" inside human controllers, as it flies and "looks" with its cannon for targets in the same time.
The same system is also incorporated into the rockets' and missiles' firing system, altough here the moving range (in degrees) is a lot smaller than in the cannon's case.
The AH64 Apache's cannon can fire 650 rounds/min of 30mm armour piercing depleted uranium sheels which have the capability of piercing the armour of tanks like the T55, T65, T-72 and T-75, as well as almoust all of the existing APCs.
The weapons officer which sits behind the pilot is then responsible with firing the cannon and launching the missiles, altough the movements of the cannon and the rest of the weapons systems can be switched to take place after his head movements instead of the pilot's.
Coming down to technology, the Apache has no-less than 127 paraoptics for dayvision. It's range is 800 miles, while its maximum speed is 210 mph.
For those performances, it weights 7700kg.
In late 1980s, the AH64A Apache got itself a new feature: night attack capabilities, by the adding of FLIR and NVG(Night Vision Goggles) capability to the choppers. Therefore, ever since 1986 and later 1988, Apache pilots started to train on night attacks. As an Apache pilot remembers, "At first we were just like any other Air Force weapons, we couldn't fly at night. When the sun went down, so did we. But then we got this new nightflight capability, so when the rest of the Air Force goes down, we go up". "[...] it is pretty scary to fly at night, any pilot will tell you, but most of the pilots love flying at night" he continues.
That was very useful as only three years later, the Apache would have to use of all that, but not in the training grounds of Western Virginia, but on the ilucive desert ranges of Kuwait and Iraq.

Apache in Combat

The AH64 Apache was extensively used during the Gulf War, when hundreds of choppers decimated the Iraqi military and eliminated almoust all of their 5,500 tanks and APC (of which less than 1,200 were operational and less than 300-400 were actually rising to the level of the Allied armour brought against them, although the Allied armour in the Gulf was majorly composed of outdated equipment such as the M105).
The Apache was also the first Allied "device" if you wish to fire the first rounds of the war, when in the first night of the allied attack, an AH64A Apache flown by a lt. fired its first Hellfire missile towards an Iraqi T-72.

In the Gulf, the Apache's mission was crucial as they were the first ones to engage combat, under the cover of darkness and Stealth, their mission was to eliminate Iraq's early warning and most advanced air defences systems. If that was not done properly, then the second wave of Stealth fighters could not have anihilated the Iraqi Air Force while it still stood helpless on the ground, and therefore, the Allied air forces would've encountered a huge resistance by Iraq's supposedly 275 fighters (out of which over 140 were sent to Iraq and other 100 were hidden in secret bunkers, facts found out later after the war), resulting therefore in the possible loss of total air superiority over Iraq and therefore in the retried of the Allieds and the cancelling of the entire Desert Fox offensive.
Therefore, it is justified to state that the Apache's contribute to the Gulf War of 1991 was absoultely crucial.

Latest Apache upgrades

The AH64D Apache Longbow

AH64D Apache Longbow is NOT the same aircraft as the AH64D Apache, although many people (including aviation "experts" with large sites on the Internet) would tell you that.
The AH64D Apache is already in active service ever since 1996 or around, while the AH64D Apache Longbow would join after after 2002.
AH64D Apache Longbow is a fully upgraded AH64D Apache, it has 150 kg of digital equipment incorporated in surplus compared to the classical AH64D, equipment which is so large that it had to be fitted in huge Stealth boxes bellow on both sides of the cockpit, where is looks like a latter used to climb on a truck.
The AH64D Apache Longbow will also incorporate new technology links, new cockpit design, new weapons systems (Hellfire II), will be able to incorporate more weapons than the AH64D classic and will have an enhanced helicopter-to-helicopter fighting capability (yeah well that is disputable and a 1974 study of the Pentagon upon chopper-to-chopper A/A combat stated that "such a fight is highly improbable to take place").

One in every twelve AH64D Apache Longbows (the new squadron size) will incorporate the 3 million dollars Radar dome, which includes radar, FLIR, NV capability, laser targetting systems, Radar detection and signiture analyzing capabilities and others. This leading Longbow will lerk around the targetted area, designating targets and sending them via a real-time datalink to the other 11 Apaches which will wait far out of sight. When time will come, all the 12 Apaches will instantaineously open fire upon the targetted group, each one on its own targets, insuring the quick and sure destruction of a large nomber of tanks, trucks, buildings, satellite links or whatever the targets might be.
Currently, the US government plans to upgrade the almoust 800 existing AH64A Apaches to the AH64D Apache Longbow model.

Latest Apache involvements

In august 1999, 24 AH64C Apaches arrived in Skopje, Macedonia in order to secure the border with the Serbian provence of Kosovo. However, in a matter of only a few days, two of those 24 choppers crashed, officially during "training maneouvres". I've seen a lot of places on the Internet where you will read that they were shut down by Serbian AAAs, by Serbian SAMs, by the UCK (Kosovo Liberation Army, an illegal and low-end Albanian guerilla fighting for some blury stuff there), either that they were shut down by the Romanian Air Defenses (LOL that one is really good) or some other silly stuff. None of it is true of course, i can guarantee 100% that the first Apache crashed due to a stall right near the training base and 80% that the second Apache crashed due to a pilot error on a training exercise.

AH-64 Apache AH-64 Apache C
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Apaches in training AH64A Apache in flight on the pic for the real size version

(AutoRec Data Internal: 12700kg for Hind.)