Boeing has completed the first flight test of three critical technologies that partly form the AH-64 Apache Block III upgrade programme.
The "structures vehicle" test flight on 23 November demonstrated the all-new split-torque face gear, composite main rotor blade, more powerful General Electric T700-701D engines, says Boeing programme manager Scott Rudy.
The three components boost the Apache's available power for lift or thrust by 20% compared with the AH-64 Block II, which is currently in production.
The first flight event took place in the month originally scheduled by the army when the Block III programme was launched three years ago, Rudy notes. Boeing had planned to complete the first flight in August, but delayed it to install a stronger transmission cover, he adds.
The first flight was the programme's most significant event since an AH-64 first flew with Block III avionics technologies in July 2008.
The US Army also used the avionics-equipped aircraft in November to complete a limited user test, says Rudy. The event saw the AH-64 flight crew take full control of a Boeing AH-6 Little Bird helicopter, which acted as a surrogate aircraft for the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-1C Sky Warrior unmanned aircraft system, he adds.
Boeing expects the US Army to decide in April whether to move the Block III programme into low-rate initial production.
The first aircraft with both the avionics and power upgrades installed is not scheduled to fly until after the production go-ahead decision, says Rudy. The debut flight of the first fully-equipped Block III aircraft is expected late in the second quarter or early in the third quarter of 2010.