Written by CW4 Karl Metz For USMilitary.com
I have been asked several times what it is like to fly the Apache attack helicopter in combat. The answer I usually give is what I think the person asking wants to hear; often along the lines of: “it’s like driving a Ferrari” or something similar, but always including a comment about the resourcefulness of the gun on the front of the aircraft. Now, it is true that the helicopter is unbelievably maneuverable, especially when teaching junior aviators the intricacies of Combat Maneuvering Flight (CMF) and it is absolutely true that the M230E1 30MM Chain Gun is by far the most amazing weapon I’ve fired in 19 years in the Active Army! But the real reason we do what we do is much less grandiose and much more focused on the friendlies, and not the bad guys.
Something we must remember is that, since contemporary wars began in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have had fearless young men and women with boots on the ground from the United States and its Allies non-stop. Long after the war-cry fell silent following the horrors of 9/11, and throughout all the difficulties the world has had to deal with, including a constant state of war, these dedicated men and women have been there fighting, leading, training and advising. Here’s our raison d’être: when there are boots on the ground, there are Apaches overhead keeping them safe and maximizing firepower on our enemies. This is what the leaked YouTube videos and campfire stories focus on: an unbelievably accurate and lethal machine carrying a variety of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, 2.75” Hydra rockets and 30MM HEDP ammunition, all doing their job, exceptionally well. This awesome array of fire-power is what always stands out as the “coolest” part of the job when viewed by our testosterone-fueled young future warriors. And you know what? I won’t argue that point! I sit here now, in July of 2018 writing this, in Eastern Afghanistan after another combat mission, knowing that the machine we fly today is even deadlier, more capable and more accurate than the ones we flew at the beginning of these wars. However, I must emphasize that there is much more to the mission and what we do as Apache pilots than employing the weapons systems.
The true mission of the Apache attack pilot is to protect the men and women on the ground. We focus on defending them with our physical presence, and our consuming fire when needed. I must borrow a thought from a friend and mentor, CW5 Scott Slider. He reminds us that the Army aviation song title, “Above the Best” really does strike a chord when thinking about those three simple words. We truly are flying high above the best. Above the brave warriors on the ground, in the heat and dust, hearing rounds screaming over their heads, as they attempt to comfort a comrade who just lost a piece of their body to an IED. That level of war is something we as aviators see only from a distance, safely at 75 Knots True Airspeed (KTAS) and 1500’ Above Ground Level (AGL). Being able to bring reassurance to an environment of war that most cannot imagine; a world with horrors that words cannot truly express is the greatest honor and privilege of flying the Apache. I wish I could describe just how incredible it is to hear the almost immediate calm come over the radio from both young and seasoned warriors on the ground who are in direct contact with the enemy and taking effective fire, knowing that you, the Apache pilot, has arrived to protect and ensure their survival at any cost. That moment brings a level of humility to my job that is unlike anything else I have experienced in my life. It fosters a principle that we, as senior aviators, instill daily in the next generation of attack pilots, and one that comes quickly with experience flying over the battlefield. It is our duty and honor, to serve our country and our allies while overhead and it is our primary mission: protecting those in battle.
So, yes, the Apache is an amazing machine. Yes, it is like driving a Ferrari (I’m guessing since I’ve never actually driven one) and yes, the 30MM is everything you can imagine a weapon could be. But all of those things are secondary to the true mission of the Attack pilot.
If you are reading this, and you find yourself on the fields of battle, know that the Attack pilots over you are there for one reason, that we are masters of our trade, and our mission is to keep a watchful eye, “Above the Best”.
Written by CW4 Karl Metz for USMilitary.com
AH-64E/D Standardization Instructor Pilot / Instrument Examiner
Other Apache Articles: The Day in the Life of an Apache Pilot