Apache Helicopter Fleet Grounded After Two Crashes Days Apart

utah national guard soldiers of the 1st attack reconnaissance battalion, 211th aviation regiment, utah army national guard fuel an ah 64d apache helicopter in guelmim, morocco, june 27, 2022, as part of exercise african lion the 2022 training exercise marks the first time apache helicopters have flown, supported, and fired rounds in morocco african lion 2022 is us africa command's largest, premier, joint, annual exercise hosted by morocco, ghana, senegal and tunisia, june 6 30 more than 7,500 participants from 28 nations and nato train together with a focus on enhancing readiness for us and partner nation forces al22 is a joint all domain, multi component, and multinational exercise, employing a full array of mission capabilities with the goal to strengthen interoperability among participants and set the theater for strategic access
Apache Fleet Grounded After Two Crashes Days ApartStaff Sgt. Oscar Gollaz
  • The Army National Guard ordered a nationwide stand down of its helicopters after two crashes in 11 days.

  • The stand down will review the circumstances of the crash and address safety issues.

  • Despite the incidents, the Apache’s safety record is higher than most helicopters due to its need to fly low and fast.

The National Guard has grounded its entire helicopter fleet after two major crash incidents in the span of just two weeks. In separate incidents, Apaches from the Utah and Mississippi National Guard were lost. The Apache has a relatively high mishap rate for Army aircraft—nearly three times higher than average.

Two Crashes, 11 Days Apart

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An Apache helicopter takes off during a demonstration of the 101st Airborne Division near Constanta, Romania, March 2023. DANIEL MIHAILESCU - Getty Images

The first incident took place on February 13th, 2024 at the South Valley Regional Airport, approximately 13 miles south of Salt Lake City, Utah. Local news photos show the aircraft on its side and its main rotor missing. The report claims that the pilot is from the 1st Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment (“Air Pirates”)—part of the Utah Army National Guard and one of just four Apache battalions in the Army reserves. The pilot was treated and released at a nearby hospital.

The second crew member involved was said to be a member of the Air Force’s 419th Fighter Wing, located at nearby Hill Air Force Base. The 419th is home to two fighter squadrons, both equipped with the F-35A Lightning fighter. The crew member was described as injured but in stable condition.

The second incident took place on February 23rd, 2024 in Mississippi during a “routine training flight” near Booneville, Mississippi. Both the pilot and co-pilot/gunner were killed. The pilot was described as a member of the 1st Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, a Texas National Guard Apache battalion, while the co-pilot was a maintenance test pilot for the Mississippi Army National Guard.

Safety Record

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An Apache attack helicopter is being unloaded from a Galaxy C-5 transport plane at the US Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, February 2017.AFP - Getty Images

The AH-64 Apache is the US Army’s attack helicopter, designed to kill tanks at a distance with Hellfire anti-tank missiles. As a result, the Apache typically flies low and fast, taking advantage of terrain features to mask its presence from enemy air defenses. The -D variant—the version involved in both crashes—uses a donut-shaped millimeter-wave radar antenna on top of the main rotor. It’s designed to peek out from behind a hill or treeline and detect tanks from a distance. The Apache can then launch Hellfire missiles at tanks from beyond line of sight without further risking detection.

Low altitude flying is inherently dangerous, taxing both the crew and the airframe. From 2016 to 2020, the Army’s Apache fleet had 2.12 “Class A” incidents per 100,000 flight hours. An Army Class A incident is defined as “a mishap in which the resulting total cost of property damage is $2,500,000 or more, an Army manned aircraft is destroyed, missing, or abandoned; or an injury and/or occupational illness results in a fatality or permanent total disability.”

soldiers assigned to 1 229 attack battalion, 16th combat aviation brigade fire an agm 114 hellfire missile from their ah 64e apache helicopter at yakima training center, wash on jan 24, 2023us army photo by capt kyle abraham, 16th combat aviation brigade
Soldiers assigned to 1-229 Attack Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade fire an Hellfire missile from their AH-64E Apache helicopter at Yakima Training Center, January 2023.Capt. Kyle Abraham

By comparison, the Class A rate for CH-47 Chinook helicopters for 2015-2019 was 1.37 per 100,000 hours. The Class A rate for the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter for 2014-2018 was 1.2 per 100,000 hours. The OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter, which was retired in the 2010s and often flew alongside the Apache, had a Class A rate of 2.11 per 100,000 hours.

The stand down—which took effect on Monday, February 26th—will allow the Guard’s aviation units to review “safety policies and procedures” following the two crashes. This does not necessarily mean there is anything mechanically wrong with the Army’s helicopters, particularly the Apache. Of all Apache Class A incidents, 81 percent were “human error,” while just 19 percent were attributed to “material failure.”

The Takeaway

The two Apache helicopter crashes may or may not be related in some way, but for now, there is no evidence the incidents are linked. The only thing they might end up having in common is that they took place in February of 2024. The stand down will allow the Guard to review safety procedures and ensure that its remaining 70 Apaches are properly serviced and maintained.

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