Murphy's Law: November 7, 2002


: Dozens of British AH-64 D "Longbow" Apaches (built for the UK by Westland and also known as the WAH-64) may have to be stored for as long as four years due to their unfulfilled need for qualified pilots. So far, 11 of the 25 attack choppers are being "mothballed" until pilots are trained and equipped to fly the aircraft. The UK's National Audit Office (NAO) has described the problem as "wasteful."

The problem started with 17-month long delay of a flight simulator, needed to train UK flyers, which pushed the start date for pilot training from 2001 all the way back to September 2003. This will force dozens of aircraft into hangar storage (at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire), while completion dates for the initial pilot training program for the next class of 144 pilots is also pushed back from April 2004 to February 2007. 

The length of the training courses was extended from 15 weeks to 26, because of the helicopter's complexity and the UK's poor weather conditions for flying. The Ministry of Defense is looking into modifying and/or shortening the training, in order to get pilots through the system without sacrificing safety, quality and competency.

The NAO warned that the training delay also endangers the delivery of 16 more Apaches, currently scheduled for February 2005. Worse, in addition to the British Army's reduction in rotorcraft fighting capability, current contractual issues over supplies of spares could subject the otherwise brand new Apaches to being scavenged for parts until those issues are resolved. 

Other problems facing these aircraft include debris from fired anti-tank rockets hitting the aircraft (common to both the US and UK variants) and the lack of a secure radio communication system due to delays in fielding the Army's Bowman radio system. The British Army's Apaches were also grounded from public flying demonstrations in the summer of 2000, because of technical problems. The problems have occurred on aircraft being flight tested. In one incident an electrical short circuit in the windscreen-wiping system caused clouds of smoke to billow over the cockpit (Electric circuit soldering was later corrected). Another Apache made an emergency landing in a field at Bulford Barracks after an electronic warning signal reported traces of metal in the fuel system (The engine was later flushed out to remove any metal shards left after manufacture). 

The 67 WAH-64s are planned to be the key weapon in the British Army's new 16th Air Assault Brigade, so these delays must haunt staff officers facing the Iraq invasion. - Adam Geibel

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