Fort Riley officials said Tuesday the post is now home to the most advanced combat aviation brigade in the Army.
The 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, received five new Apache Block III helicopters on Tuesday afternoon. The $36 million aircrafts manufactured by Boeing incorporate 26 new technologies and have received an updated communication system, engine, transmission and drive shaft. Fort Riley will be the only post in the Army to have these new Apaches.
“What the Block III brings is significant improvement in performance,” Lt. Col. Ed Vedder, commander, 1st ARB, 1st Avn. Regt. said. “The aircraft can carry more weight, fly faster, fly farther and bring more munitions to the fight that any of the previous models.”
Vedder said the 1st ARB will receive two of the new aircrafts a month until November or December when the battalion will have a full fleet of 24. They are replacing the previous model, the Apache Block II, which will be transitioned to the Army National Guard.
The 1st ARB’s first priority in combat is supporting soldiers on the ground, and members of the battalion say they believe the upgrades to the Apache Block III will provide an unparalleled level of support.
“I think it’s really going to help the army as a whole,” Capt. Adam Marr, one of only 15 pilots currently trained to fly the Block III, said. “It’s going to clarify the battlefield and it’s going to provide better support.”
Marr said the enhanced drive system and enhanced instrument package will translate to quicker response times on the battlefield.
“So essentially you’re going to be able to go higher and go faster,” Marr said. “We get to the ground force commander, those guys on the ground, faster to give them the support they need.”
Vedder and Marr also noted the Block III’s capability to communicate with the Gray Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle. Marr said pilots will be able to get a video feed from the Gray Eagle in the cockpit and thus evaluate a situation on the ground before air support actually gets there.
“We can take control of a UAV and fly it to where we want it and use its sensor, its laser, and have situational awareness of what’s going on many, many miles away,” Vedder said. “When they need us, we’ll be there so fast the enemy won’t know what hit them.”
Marr and Chief Warrant Officer Josh Cordova said it’s an honor to provide that kind of support.
“That’s our total job,” Cordova said. “That’s our sole purpose out there.”
But the battalion will have to go back to school before it actually gets out on the battlefield. Vedder, Marr and Cordova were all part of the first class to be trained on the Block IIIs in Mesa, Ariz. at the Boeing plant. The Block III and Block II are similar but different enough to warrant three weeks of training at the Boeing facility for battalion pilots.
Vedder said 10 pilots a month will be sent to Mesa for training. In the end, more than 70 pilots will have trained there.
Marr and Cordova said it was quite an experience to be two of first trained on the Block III. Cordova was in awe at first, saying he just wanted stare at the new helicopter. They said the increased power of the Block III is noticeable but it’s actually a smoother flight.
“It truly was a great experience,” Marr said. “It’s just one of those things where you kind of feel like you’re in the right place.”
After the time training, it’s nice to be home, though.
“The little ones and the wife there, that’s the greatest feeling right there,” Cordova said pointing to his family.