Alejandro Freixes
Nov 2, 2011

Deadliest and fastest Apache chopper includes pilot-controlled drones


The Apache helicopter is arguably the most widely recognized and valued military helicopter brand in the world. The Boeing Company is ensuring that superiority with delivery of the first AH-64D Apache Block III multi-role attack helicopter to the U.S. Army today in Mesa.

Given the collapse of the Comanche helicopter program and its funds being diverted into other programs like Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) and Light Utility Helicopter, the AH-64 Apache will remain the primary attack chopper of the United States well into the future. The nearly $700 million price tag for upgrading the choppers, signed by Boeing and U.S. Army officials, helped fund this quantum leap in air combat.

According to  Sofia Bledsoe, a public affairs officer with Program Executive Office Aviation, one of the most lethal upgrades is an “Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) control, which means the pilot can now control the flight path, weapons systems and sensors on a [drone].”


Crews in the older Apaches had to slowly communicate with drone operators via lengthy verbal radio descriptions. Now, the Apache crew can just instantly see a video of what was once only visible to the drone operator, take control of the drone, and fly it precisely to where its cameras and sensors zoom in.


Drones can even be used as a remote sensor to identify hostiles ahead of where the Apache is, thus ensuring that there are no surprises when the chopper shows up.


Col. Shane Openshaw, the U.S. Army Apache project manager, had this to say, "This is a remarkable achievement by a great Army-industry team, a giant leap for U.S. Army aviation, and a signal to aggressors around the world that the Apache continues its legacy as a formidable and highly effective weapon system. I am proud to witness this program milestone achievement and honored to be part of the team that designs and builds the Apache attack helicopter. I know the value this aircraft brings to soldiers on the ground and in the air who defend freedom daily in combat zones and during peacekeeping missions around the globe."

Worldwide, countries like India are already lining up to purchase their own AH-64D Longbow Apache Block III choppers. The latest Apache attack helicopter beat out the Russian Mi-28N ‘Night Hunter’ which was deemed inferior in its sensors and combat systems integration. The Indian army has purchased 22 of the Apache Block III helicopters.

For our own Army, Boeing is initially planning to produce 51 AH-64D Apache Block III helicopters under Low Rate Initial Production. Eventually, the Army plans to acquire 690 Apache Block III aircraft.  

Combat aviation advancements in the new Apache are expected to empower soldiers and commanders with its incorporation of over 26 new technologies. The drive system is revamped with a new split-torque face gear transmission that increases power capability to 3,400 shaft horsepower, increased payload performance via a new composite main rotor blade, and integration of the T700-GE-701D engine with enhanced digital electronic control units for increased hover ceiling altitude at greater gross weight on a 95 degrees Fahrenheit day.

Not only can the Apache now operate at 6,000 feet, it can carry out a full mission payload at a speed of 164 knots. The previous fleet could only hit 144 knots. This allows the aircraft to retain its performance from the days before it was loaded with 3 to 4 thousand extra pounds of high-tech gear, while still meeting modern weight demands. Given this lighter and swifter mobility, the Apache can now hit place where the enemy was once able to hide from the previous aircraft.

David Koopersmith, the Boeing Vice President of Attack Helicopter Programs, states, "The Apache team worldwide has done a remarkable job of producing a phenomenal helicopter and delivering it to the Army customer on cost and ahead of schedule. We pledge to continue our efforts to ensure that our customers have enduring capabilities today and tomorrow."