Gunship Academy

by Richard Sheffield

Producing the Hughes YAH-64

A number of changes were made during this period. The tail design was changed several times. The exhaust ports for the engines were redesigned to make it harder for the aircraft to be tracked by heat-seeking missiles.

Designs for the targeting system and the night-vision system were evaluated. In April 1980, Martin-Marietta was chosen over Northrop to provide the Target Acquisition Designation Sight and Pilot Night Vision Sensor (TADS/PNVS). The Martin-Marietta system had performed flawlessly during testing, scoring three out of three hits with Hellfire missiles. Despite the continuing successful record, the project still faced opposition in Congress due to costs and was lucky at several points not to be canceled.

A major test of the Apache was conducted in mid-1981 in the form of an operational test. This test lasted for three months and tested the aircraft performance in a number of simulated battlefield encounters (sometimes as many as four battles a day), as well as projected targets for reliability. By the time these tests were through, the three aircraft used in the test had flown over 400 hours, most in simulated combat with ground forces. Finally, after complete evaluation of the results of the operational test, the go-ahead was given for full-scale production in April 1982.

As the first order for production aircraft was being entered, funding problems arose. The Senate Armed Services Committee refused to release the required money, and the Apache supporters had to repeatedly fight the concept that there was a cheaper way to acquire a first-rate attack helicopter. Once again they had to explain why the AH-1 Cobra could not be modified to meet the standard. The Committee was finally convinced when told of a plan offered by West Germany to improve the Cobra. This plan would take four more years to develop, and the resulting aircraft would still be four times more vulnerable than the current AH-64A. With the support of the Committee and General Rogers, the NATO Commander, the go-ahead was given for production of 48 aircraft—with the total production run to eventually reach 515.

Figure 1-2. Apache Helicopters Being Tested in Arizona

In 1983, the giant corporation put together by Howard Hughes was being taken apart (due to his death in 1976), and Hughes Helicopter was sold to McDonnell Douglas. The deal was finalized in January 1984 with a total purchase price of $470 million. Under the leadership of McDonnell Douglas, new facilities were constructed, and, by September of that same year, the production line was up and running with a goal of three Apaches per month.

Figure 1-3. Apaches Currently Rolling off the Line at 12 per Month

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