by Richard Sheffield
The Development and Design of the AH-64A Apache
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The AH-64A is the best attack helicopter in the world today, although its development was often in doubt. There was constant bickering between the Army and Congress over increasing costs and the need for such an aircraft. The famous UH-1 Huey and the first true attack helicopter, the AH-1 Cobra, had performed well in Vietnam and were battle tested. Why did we need to go through the long and expensive process of designing and developing a completely new aircraft? The answer to that question involved a number of areas.
Engine performance. The AH-1 Cobra was of single-engine design, and in conditions such as those experienced in Vietnam, this single engine could not deliver the necessary performance. Often weapons loads had to be decreased in hot weather to accommodate enough fuel to perform the intended mission. This lack of engine performance also limited the aircraft's quick-maneuver ability.
Firepower. Because of the small size of the AH-1, it carried a limited amount of firepower. Due to the increased weight when fully armed, it had a very limited range. The Army determined that to be effective in the modern battlefield, it would be necessary for a helicopter to carry a large quantity and variety of arms.
Survivability. The helicopters of the Vietnam era were basically modified civilian or transport vehicles, and, as such, they were not properly designed to take a great deal of damage and continue to fly. Most were susceptible to severe damage from small-arms fire.
Figure 1-1. The AH-64A
The result of the Apache development program, a fully loaded AH-64A over the skies of Western Europe.
The SA-7 missile. In the late 1960s, the Soviets began to deploy the SA-7 hand-held surface-to-air missile. This event radically changed the proposed tactics for future attack helicopters. Up to that point, the Army had envisioned attack tactics similar to those used in Vietnam (where the helicopters would fly at high speed at treetop level to deliver gun and rocket attacks). Operating in this manner would make them sitting ducks for the easily transported SA-7. The Army realized that future attack helicopters would need to operate below the treetops, down among the trees. This placed a lesser emphasis on high speed and a greater emphasis on maneuverability.
All-weather flight. Harsh weather conditions, such as those frequently experienced in Western Europe, would ground the existing helicopter force or severely limit its ability to carry out a successful attack. There was a definite need for an all-weather attack helicopter which could operate on the front in Western Europe in heavy rain or dense fog.