Naval engineer paves way for new breed of Apache warriors

A ROYAL Navy air engineer was picked to help introduce the most potent helicopter in the UK’s arsenal into service.

Petty Officer Stu Isaksen was one of six personnel sent to the USA to learn how to maintain the newest variant of the fearsome Apache gunship which enters service this autumn.

The Apache has been around for nearly half a century with the British-built variant in service with the Army Air Corps since 2004.

From the outset, the UK has operated the tankbuster both on land and at sea – including flying missions from HMS Ocean during the Libyan civil war and initial trials with the new Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers.

The latest version of the Apache, the E Model, is designed for operations from carriers as well as air bases and is due to be delivered to the Army Air Corps from November.

Those upgrades include an attack radar which will pick out potential targets at sea, better rotor blades and more powerful engines making the helicopter faster and able to carry a heavier payload. In addition, the new combat system installed allows the crew to operate drones from the cockpit.

Although serving in the Navy, Stu has spent the past three years assigned to 3 Regiment Army Air Corps at Wattisham in Suffolk working on the existing Apache fleet after previous experience with the gunship while serving aboard HMS Ark Royal and Ocean.

To pave the way for the E’s arrival in the UK, a small group of trailblazers was sent across the Atlantic to get to grips with the new model.

Stu and his Army colleagues did so at the height of the Covid pandemic, so had to endure two weeks in quarantine in Virginia when they arrived – and were expected to wear US Army uniforms throughout their training which, given the scale of the Apache programme, took place around the clock.

The Brits found themselves working on the Apache E each day between 5pm and 1pm – which spared them the worst of the 35-plus degree heat at Felker Army Airfield, about 30 miles northeast of Norfolk, the US Navy’s principal Atlantic base – in Virginia.

It is very clear that this aircraft is far superior to its predecessor and will prove to be an exciting opportunity for all those personnel involved in its operation. These are undoubtedly exciting times for Army aviation and I feel lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of it.

Petty Officer Stu Isaksen

Their hosts used state-of-the-art interactive training aids which highlighted just how more user friendly maintaining the new Apache will be for all technicians.

After being tested on topics such as the improved airframe, hydraulics, engines, and transmission systems on the enhanced gunship, the six engineers returned to the UK with diplomas to prove their ability to maintain the E-model.

Stu says working on the Apache at home and abroad, for the past three years has been “fantastic”, but the best is yet to come from the formidable ‘flying tank’.

“It is very clear that this aircraft is far superior to its predecessor and will prove to be an exciting opportunity for all those personnel involved in its operation,” said Stu who’s been in the Royal Navy for 16 years.

“These are undoubtedly exciting times for Army aviation and I feel lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of it.”