We gets some hot tips from Apache pilot Captain Alex Harris of A Regiment Army Air Corps on flying one of the planet s most cutting-edge choppers.
1. How do you get off the ground in an Apache?
We can take off vertically into the hover like any other helicopter, but when we are heavily laden we prefer to conduct a running takeoff, using a runway like an aeroplane. For both techniques we will pull the collective lever up to increase power from the engines and change the angle of attack of the rotor blades, which together generate more lift. When the helicopter’s lift is greater than the weight, we go up!
2. Tell us about some of the unique instrumentation within this helicopter.
The British Army’s version of the Apache is very advanced. All the instrumentation is displayed on glass screens and the crew can switch between the instruments and data displayed depending on the needs of the mission. There are cameras on the front of the aircraft that display an infrared picture to us through the monocle over our right eye. We use this image both for flying and operating the Apache’s weapon systems. Our helmets have sensors in them allowing us to slave the cameras and the gun to point wherever our heads are facing.
3. How are the Apache’s weapons deployed?
We have three sights that we can use to fire the weapons: the helmet-mounted display (HMD), the Modernised Target Acquisition and Designation Sight (MTADS) and the Fire Control Radar (FCR). All three can be used to fire the Apache’s trio of main weapon systems: 30-millimetre (1.2-inch) cannon, Hellfire missiles and rockets. The primary sight is the MTADS, which has a powerful built-in laser that directs laser-seeking missiles all the way to the target. The FCR can find targets several kilometres away and it passes co-ordinates to the radar missiles, which will then autonomously track and hit the target. The HMD is very useful for self-defence and we can engage targets simply by looking at them through our monocle, selecting the cannon and pulling the trigger.
4. What kind of special manoeuvres can you perform in this aircraft?
The Apache is highly manoeuvrable; it can fly a loop and conduct some pretty impressive wing-over manoeuvres. If we are engaged by a threat we can very rapidly lose height simply by rolling the aircraft on to its side and reducing power. Once we near the ground we can pull the power in and the aircraft will transition back to level flight very quickly. The pilot is aided by a sophisticated stability system that assists with keeping the helicopter’s flight on a smooth profile. The aircraft holds system can put the Apache in a very stable hover, which is useful for using weapons at low level.
5. How do you go about landing an Apache?
The Apache is able to land like any other helicopter in that, by reducing the collective lever and power demand, the lift will reduce and the weight of the aircraft will cause it to descend. This can be done very quickly if required and all that is needed at the bottom is a slight application of power to cushion the landing. We can also land like an aeroplane and conduct a running landing on a runway or a ship, which is useful if we are heavy or short on power.
The Apache has been tried and tested by the American military over many years so it already has a very good reputation. The UK Apache is as technologically advanced as battlefield helicopters get right now so is admired across the aviation community. Where the Apache has made its name though is on operations in Afghanistan and Libya, where we provide firepower to the soldiers on the ground. By combining the technology of the aircraft with the attitude and professional aggression of the pilots the Apache is often seen as mission-essential equipment. Infantry know that if they get into trouble an Apache is minutes away and the sight of one is often enough to scare off an enemy. It can be a deterrent without even having to resort to firepower.