An Apache attack helicopter belonging to 4 Regiment, 656 Squadron, Army Air Corps made the first landing of this aircraft type on HMS Queen Elizabeth on 3rd June.
The Apache AH-1 Longbow has been embarked while the ship is alongside in Portsmouth. This is not a flying trial but a series of test to ensure the aircraft can be handled and supported by the ship. Movement around the flight deck, aircraft lifts and hangar, as well as refuelling and re-arming procedures, are trialled during what is officially known as Platform Ship Integration Testing (PSIT). RN aircraft handlers must become familiar with the aircraft and AAC personnel will need to re-acquaint themselves with life at sea and a very different ship – the Apache was last deployed at sea on HMS Ocean.
The PSITs are expected to take 3 days before the Apache returns to its base at Wattisham Airfield. HMS Queen Elizabeth is scheduled to sail for another series of helicopter trials in the Eastern Atlantic in July. When she sails an Apache of 667 (Development & Trials) Squadron, based at Middle Wallop will embark to conduct Ship-Helicopter Operating Limits (SHOL) clearance trials. Assessments will be made about the maximum sea state and wind speed the aircraft can operate from the QEC carriers while carrying various weapon and fuel loads. This will prepare the ship and aircrew to deploy the Apache operationally on the QEC carriers when required as part of the CV Air Wing (SHOLs have already been conducted for the Merlin, Wildcat and Chinook). The potent attack helicopter is likely to be embarked when the QEC at employed in the ‘Littoral Manoeuvre’ / assault ship role. With the axing of the Harriers, Apache’s flying from HMS Ocean provided a limited stop-gap carrier strike capability during operations over Libya in 2011.
Some AH-1s have received the enhanced corrosion protection package to protect them from salt spray damage in the marine environment. The Army is going to replace its 66 AH-1s with 50 AH-64E Apache Guardians and it is assumed that marinisation measures including floatation bags will be applied to at least some of the new aircraft so they have the flexibility to be deployed on the carriers when called for. It has not been confirmed if the new aircraft will be fitted with folding rotors in the same way as the much altered UK-built AH-1 Apaches, although it would be very short-sighted not to make this important modification. 38 Apache Guardians are on order from Boeing at present with the plan that all 50 will be delivered to the Army by 2025.