The US Army is re-designating the Boeing AH-64D Block III Apache as the AH-64E.

The decision comes as the upgraded attack helicopter is moved into full rate production after a successful operational test phase.

The Block III has a significant enough boost in capabilities to warrant the change in designation, says Boeing's Ray Handy, marketing manager and a pilot for the AH-64.

The soon-to-be E-model's rotor blades are made of composites and the airfoil is shaped differently, he says. Moreover, the entire drive system has been completely revamped, with the engines and transmission significantly upgraded. "It's a completely new gearbox," Handy says.

The new drive system, in many respects, restores performance of the helicopter to earlier days. The introduction of the D-model in the 1990s added a large amount of weight to the aircraft over the years.

"It has taken us back to the days when the Apache was a much lighter aircraft," says Todd Brown, Boeing's chief rotary-wing test pilot. The E-model is similar in performance to the much lighter A-model helicopter, he adds.

The Block III's avionics have also been greatly improved. The biggest change is that the system has moved to an open-architecture design. But there have also been improvements to the flight controls and flight management systems.

The aircraft's mission capabilities have also been greatly improved, although Brown declines to elaborate. However, Boeing says one of the biggest improvements in that regard is the addition of a level four manned-unmanned teaming system, which will allow the aircraft's crew to work with unmanned air vehicles.

Source: Flight International