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Small Part Equals Big Problem for Attack Helicopter

A $3.4B contract has been put on pause over safety concerns related to a nut.

The Army’s AH-64 Apache Helicopter houses a collection of equipment ranging from night vision guidance systems to Hellfire missiles and a 30 mm automatic cannon loaded with up to 1,200 high-explosive rounds. Made by Boeing, the Apache can hit a top speed of 176 mph.

However, even with all of that technology, orders for the latest version of the Apache are being held up over a nut. More specifically, corrosive defects have been found in the main rotor strap pack nut, compromising its ability to secure large bolts that hold the chopper’s rotor blades in place. Defects happen, but the amount of time it’s taken Boeing and the Army to find this one is somewhat concerning.

Since 2013 there have been eight separate safety issues attributed to these nuts, including three crashes that claimed the lives of six soldiers. However, these part failures can be traced all the way back to 1987, when cracked rotor hub retention nuts were linked to a crash. Those issues were traced back to a fabrication defect. Inspections link the most recently issues to corrosion attributed to use in severe weather and coastal environments. 

In February the Army stopped accepting Apache deliveries from Boeing, essentially pausing a $3.4 billion contract. To Boeing’s credit, they have created a newly designed nut that the Army has approved. Testing will begin this summer, in hopes of getting new Apaches safely in the air before the end of the year. 

New parts will also be distributed for the more than 650 multi-role combat choppers currently in use. The Apache made its debut in 1984 and currently costs U.S. taxpayers about $35 million each.

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