TEL AVIV, Israel ― The Israeli Air Force on Sunday lifted a nearly three-month grounding order on all its Apache attack helicopters following a deadly crash-landing in early August that claimed the life of a pilot and critically injured his co-pilot.
In an Oct. 22 statement, the Air Force said the first Apaches returned to flight and the entire force will gradually return to full operations as recommendations from expert investigators are implemented. The statement did not cite the reason for the early August crash, nor did it detail corrective measures that are being implemented prior to the return of all aircraft to operational duty.
However, Amir Bohbot, a veteran military reporter for Israel’s Walla news service, attributed the crash to a steering malfunction. Bohbot also reported that the U.S. Army experienced a similar steering-related crash of its AH-64Ds during an operation in Afghanistan, but did not share full details with the Israeli Air Force.
Last August’s fatal crash of the older-model AH-64A followed an earlier crash in June of a front-line AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter, which investigators attributed to a crack in the rear rotor blade.
In response to June’s crash, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, then-commander of the Israeli Air Force, ordered a grounding of the entire Apache fleet, which he lifted in late July following recommendations to perform periodic X-rays of all rotor blades and to limit the helicopters’ use to 80 percent of the advertised operational lifespan.
It was during a post-grounding certification flight ― just minutes after the pilot and co-pilot reported a malfunction ― that the latest crash occurred as aviators attempted to land the aircraft.
The Air Force insists the two crashes were not connected.
Boeing, the U.S. prime contractor for the Apaches, could not be reached for comment. Israel’s Apache purchases began in 1990 with AH-64A models, many of which it has since reconfigured into the newer AH-64D models.