The Apache Helicopter Marks 40 Years Since Its First Flight

Even entering its middle-age, its still lethal enough for India to drop billions on.


This September 30 marks the Apache helicopter’s 40th birthday, and somehow candles on a cake just don’t seem like they’re enough. When you’re running the kind of lethal hardware that can ignite the ozone with the twitch of a finger, every birthday is a Quinceañera.

Rig a chain gun under the forward fuselage. Tie on a nose-mounted sensor for target acquisition and night vision and a helmet-mounted display that aims the guns wherever the pilot looks. Wrap it with a self-sealing fuel system. Throw on a four-blade main rotor and four-blade tail rotor that can take up to 9.6 tons of cargo higher than a grocery bill. Then go a courting with a bouquet of Hellfire missiles and Hydra rocket pods.

This all started when the U.S. Army put a request for proposals looking for a new Advanced Attack Helicopter design that would have better long-range capabilities and every deadly projectile weapon known to man. The winning prototype from Hughes Helicopters took off on September 30, 1975.

The most lethal helicopter we could make.


Sure, it’s had a few upgrades since then. Most notably in the late ‘80s, when the AH-64D Apache Longbow prototypes chewed up a group of AH-64A Apaches in field tests Top Gun-style, scoring four times higher for lethality and seven times higher for survivability. That model went into production in October 1995, and since then it’s been the gold standard for war machines.

No wonder India just laid down $2.5 billion for a fleet of 15 Chinook and 22 Apaches, according to the Economic Times. The purchase is already being described as a game-changer for India’s military, which is as it should be when you acquire nearly two dozen of the most lethal attack helicopters in production.

In 2013, Boeing marked production of the 2,000th Apache. “That’s a lot of aircraft; we must be doing something right,” Apache Manufacturing Technician Jessica Ferguson said at the time.