Apaches Grounded Again

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June 29, 2001 Posted: 9:54 AM EDT (1354 GMT)

By Chris Plante and Tom Spain CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Army quietly grounded its entire fleet of Apache attack helicopters two weeks ago to check for faulty tail rotors, CNN has learned

The decision to halt Apache flights followed the recent crash of an Israeli Apache helicopter in which the "tail rotor head assembly separated from the aircr aft in flight," an Army document says.

The Army issued a "safety of flight" message dated June 15 ordering all Apache flights to end until the tail rotor of each of the 742 U.S. helicopters is inspected.

A U.S. Army official who asked that he not be identified told CNN that it is expected to take up to three months to complete the inspections and return the entire fleet to flight status. Each inspection takes more than four hours, officials said.

The Army also established a "temporary life limit" for the tail rotors of 1,000 hours of flying time, according to the June 15 flight safety center document obtained by CNN.

If the tail rotor has more than 1,000 flight hours the "aircraft is grounded until the blade is replaced or inspection procedures are implemented," the document said.

The Apache helicopter has been pulled from flight status several times in recent years for a variety of mechanical problems.

The deployment of Apache helicopters to Albania before the 1999 NATO military action against Yugoslavia became an embarrassing debacle for the Army when it took weeks to get 24 of the helicopters in place.

The Army memo says replacement of a tail rotor would cost more than $41,000, which would amount to more than $30 million if all 742 required replacement.

Until all inspections are completed, all Apaches are prohibited from flight except "when combat operations or matters of life and death in civil disasters or other emergencies are so urgent that they override the consequences of continued aircraft operation," the Army document says.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), July 02, 2001


Oops. li nk

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), July 02, 2001.

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