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Westland Apache AH1

Andy Jordan

Chessington, United Kingdom

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Taken at the RNAS Yeovilton airshow on the 23rd June 2012….
The AgustaWestland Apache is a licence-built version of the Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter for the British Army’s Army Air Corps. The first eight helicopters were built by Boeing; the remaining 59 were assembled by Westland Helicopters (now part of AgustaWestland) at Yeovil, Somerset in England from Boeing-supplied kits. Changes from the AH-64D include Rolls-Royce engines, a new electronic defensive aids suite and a folding blade mechanism allowing the British version to operate from ships. The helicopter was named “WAH-64” by Westland Helicopters. It is designated Apache AH Mk 1 (or shortened to Apache AH1) by the Ministry of Defence.

The Apache has become a valued form of close air support in the continuing conflict in Afghanistan, being deployed to the region since 2006. The Apache has been an object of controversy over the fitting of some munitions, such as cluster bombs and thermobaric weapons. Naval trials and temporary deployments at sea have proven the aircraft as an able platform to operate from the decks of ships, which is a unique application of the Apache amongst its operators. British Apaches served in the NATO 2011 military intervention in Libya operating from Royal Navy ships.

The requirement for a new attack helicopter was identified by the British government in the early 1990s. In 1993, invitations to bid were issued. Bids received included the Eurocopter Tiger, a modernised Bell AH-1 SuperCobra, the Boeing AH-64 Apache, the Boeing/Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche, and the Agusta A129 Mangusta.4 Both the Tiger and Cobra variant were derided for requiring development, and thus risk, while the Apache was combat proven, however its performance in the First Gulf War was criticised by competitors.4 Westland and the Apache was selected in July 1995, a contract for 67 helicopters was signed in 1996.15 The first prototype WAH-64 Apache was produced by Westland, under licence from Boeing, in September 1998.6 The first nine Apache AH Mk1 helicopters were authorised for service by the director of British Army Aviation on 16 January 2001.6 The 67th and final Apache was handed over to the British Army in July 2004.7 The cost of the helicopter fleet was around £3.1 billion, with a total acquisition cost of £4.1 billion.2 Reliability had become questioned by US Apache operations, the entire fleet in the Balkans had been grounded due to serious failures with the tail rotor.89 In 1998, the development of the Longbow radar had ran into problems regarding its weight, impact upon overall agility, and the ability to transfer data was non-functional.10 These problems with important parts of the aircraft, and the high cost for the fleet, led to calls for its cancellation in 1999.11

“I have no doubt whatsoever that the Attack Helicopter will represent the biggest single enhancement to the Army’s capability for many years. It will change the way we go to battle. Now we have taken the decision to buy the Apache, the Army must ensure that doctrine is developed to allow us to make the fullest possible use of its tremendous capability.”
Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie, 1996.12

When the requirement for the Apache had been formalised in the early 1990s, military doctrine assumed that a large conventional armoured assault from the Eastern Bloc was Britain’s main threat. Following the collapse and break-up of the Soviet Union, the concepts of flexibility and rapid response took precedence.12 The UK’s Strategic Defence Review called for Apaches to undertake amphibious attack missions, operating from the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, the Invincible class aircraft carriers and their successors, the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, and possibly the amphibious assault vessels HMS Bulwark and Albion.13 Each squadron equipped with the Apache should have eight operational aircraft.14

The WAH-64 experienced delays in entering service due to complications with the modifications made for British service.15 Prior entering service in 2004, several development problems were noted, including a lack of the ability to securely communicate with other helicopters and a risk of damage to the tail rotor and airframe from firing its Hellfire missiles.1617 The problem with using the Hellfire was debris generated by the firing of missiles, both the Hellfire and CRV7 rockets, could strike the body of the aircraft and cause damage; resolving this issue created a delay to training programs.2 These problems were corrected prior to entering service, a secure communications suite was installed and Hellfire missiles are routinely fired by WAH-64s.1819 In 2002, government sources stated that full operational capability was set to be achieved by 2010.20 In 2005, an out-of-service date for the Apache was forecast at 2030, however the service life could be extended by decades if a major life-extension upgrade is performed.21
External videos
Apache overview
BBC Tour of an Apache

Several deviations were made to the standard Apache design used by the US and those exported to other countries. One major difference is the use of a pair of Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322 01/12 engines, replacing the original General Electric T700-GE-701C engines.22 The Rolls-Royce engine produces 1,565 kW (2,100 hp) vs 1,410 kW (1,890 hp) for the GE T700C engine.18 Unlike many helicopters used by coalition forces in Afghanistan, the Apache required less modification to serve in the region due to special filters incorporated into the design.23 Another change is the folding blade mechanism to stow the helicopters in confined spaces;24 the rotor blades also have anti-ice protection to allow operations in Arctic environments.
Apache in flight at Biggin Hill, 2008

There were changes made to the sensor and avionics outfitting the craft as well; connectivity with the BOWMAN secure communications system to interact with other British military units being a significant one.25 The SELEX (formerly BAE Systems Avionics) Helicopter Integrated Defensive Aids System (HIDAS) was also fitted.26 The HIDAS system was retrofitted onto the aircraft in mid-2004 just prior to entering service, along with several redesigned composite bodywork components.27 An eye-safe training laser to allow the Apache to function as a target designator was also installed.28

Instead of the American Hydra 70 rocket pods, the Westland Apache can carry up to 76 CRV7 rockets.1819 The CRV-7 uses a modular warhead: “a high explosive, semi-armour piercing warhead for attacks on unarmoured targets and a kinetic energy penetrator, which contains no explosive, for attacks on armoured targets”.29 There used to be a third type of warhead: the Multi-Purpose Sub Munition (MPSM), which was a controversial weapon as it has been classified as a cluster bomb;30 each rocket contained nine M73 submunitions.3132 In May 2008, several senior officers, such as General David Ramsbotham spoke out against British plans to keep the weapon.3332 In the same month, Britain, as one of the 111 participating nations, agreed to ban cluster bombs on humanitarian grounds.34 Britain destroyed the last of its CRV-7 MPSMs in July 2009.30
An Apache at RIAT, RAF Fairford

Like the US AH-64D Apache Longbows, the Apache AH Mk 1 carries a fire-control radar (FCR) and Radar Frequency Interferometer (RFI), providing an integrated surveillance and attack system.18 The ‘Longbow’ radar is the bulbous unit over the rotor hub assembly; radar placement above the rotors allows the Apache to hover behind cover scanning for targets, with only the radar unit exposed.35 Additionally, the Longbow radar can monitor traffic in the Apache’s airspace.36 The radar can also be used for surveillance and terrain profiling.37 A modem is interfaced into the Longbow radar and other sensor systems to relay information to other aircraft, this allows other Apaches to fire on targets identified by only a single helicopter.38

AgustaWestland have since made several upgrades to Britain’s Apache fleet. In May 2005, a $212 million contract was awarded to equip all 67 Mk1 helicopters with the Apache Arrowhead sensor system upgrade, to be completed by 2010.3940 In 2009, it was announced that AgustaWestland was also integrating new external fuel tanks with ballistic protection.41 Some of the internal fuel tanks can be removed, WAH-64s in Afghanistan may have these removed to allow for extra ammunition for the cannon to be fitted.36 It has been suggested that advanced rotor blades and additional controls to improve the agility of the aircraft may be fitted in a mid-life update of the fleet.42
Operational history
Attack helicopter taxiing on tarmac.
A WAH-64 on the tarmac at Middle Wallop airfield, a second is in the background

In May 2005, the first Apache-equipped regiment achieved operational status.43 The Westland Apache has replaced the Westland Lynx AH7 as the British Army’s tactical attack helicopter.44 The Apache is currently operated by two regiments of the Army Air Corps (3 Regt AAC and 4 Regt AAC) as part of 16 (Air Assault) Brigade. The Apache is intended to operate in the armed reconnaissance and attack roles, similar to the US usage of Apaches during the 1991 Gulf War. Unlike US versions, the Westland Apache has been navalised and now serves aboard Royal Navy ships in addition to its land-based role.24 It achieved maritime certification in December 2005 aboard HMS Ocean. On 17 November 2006, HMS Ark Royal became the first aircraft carrier to land an Apache AH Mk 1.45

In August 2006, the intense usage of Apaches in Afghanistan led to British commanders admitting that weapons and spare parts were being used at a far greater rate, and subsequently a greater cost, than anticipated.46 On 11 November 2007, it was reported that half of the Apache gunships in British service had been grounded as they had fallen below the level considered “fit for purpose”, along with several other British Helicopters such as the Chinook and Merlin HC3.47 A year later in November 2008 the situation had declined further, out of 67 aircraft only 20 were available for combat operations.48 In late 2009, AgustaWestland was awarded a contract to transfer support services for the Apache and many of its components such as the Longbow radar, in-house; in the following months senior officers reflected that this organisation change had resulted in higher availability.49 In June 2011, civilian engineers maintaining the Apaches at RAF Wattisham threatened to conduct industrial action and strikes over a pay dispute.50

In October 2008 it was announced that Prince Harry had begun the process of qualifying to become an Apache pilot.51 In May 2010, the terrorist organisation Al Qaeda theatened to abduct the prince if he piloted an Apache in Afghanistan.52 In April 2011, Prince Harry was promoted to Captain following his completion of Apache conversion training.53 In June 2011, sections of the media reported that Prince Harry is to deploy to Afghanistan as an Apache pilot in 2012.3

The Apache’s first operational tour was as part of 16 Air Assault Brigade in Afghanistan; there were eight Apache AH1s deployed in Afghanistan in February 2007.54 These were drawn from No. 656 Squadron and No. 664 Squadron of 9 Regiment AAC, based at RAF Dishforth.55 Unlike their American counterparts in Afghanistan, the Apache AH Mk 1 is deployed with its Longbow Fire Control Radar to enable the pilot to better manage traffic in their airspace.36 Initially pilots had to often fly for 16–18 hours at a time due to the low number of Apaches in the theatre;56 typically each Apache would be stationed in Afghanistan for eight weeks before returning to Britain for roughly eight weeks of maintenance.57 On 22 May 2006, a UK Apache operating in Afghanistan’s Helmand province used a Hellfire missile to destroy an abandoned French vehicle to protect sensitive equipment.58

The Apache quickly became a highly valued tool against insurgents, able to escort ground and air forces and rapidly respond to Taliban forces on the ground.59 Major Huw Williams, second in command of 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, stated that: “We’re really impressed [with the Apache]. It’s a very effective beast.”58 It has been noted that Taliban forces refer to the aircraft as the “Mosquito”. Although the Apaches have become targets for insurgents, as of November 2008 no British Apaches have been lost to enemy fire.2348 In September 2008, an Apache was seriously damaged by a crash shortly following takeoff in Helmand province, no loss of life occurred.60
External media
Two soldiers strapped to Apache’s wings
BBC News coverage

On 13 January 2007, a 200-strong British force, led by Royal Marines, launched an operation to attack Jugroom Fort, a major Taliban base in southern Helmand Province.6162 After several hours of intense fighting, the Marines regrouped and it was discovered that Lance Corporal Mathew Ford of 45 Commando Royal Marines was missing. A rescue mission was launched using four volunteers, Royal Marines and a Royal Engineer, strapped to the stub-wings of two Apaches.61 The helicopters could not travel above 50 mph to ensure the safety of the extra passengers from rotor downwash. The Apaches landed under fire inside the compound, after which the rescuers dismounted and recovered the body of LCpl Ford. Ford’s body was flown out in the same manner that the soldiers arrived.61 Other Apaches hovered above, providing suppressive fire throughout.63 None of the rescuers were injured in the recovery mission and they were later hailed for their bravery.64

In May and June 2008, British and Afghan National Army forces conducted Operation Eagle’s Eye, aimed at disrupting Taliban activities to the south of Musa Qaleh; a key portion of which was a major night-time helicopter raid, rapidly deploying members of 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment into the town.65 In June 2008, a British Apache fired a thermobaric Hellfire missile; the controversial usage of such weapons was approved after extensive legal and ethical evaluations within the MOD.66 In June 2008, a Taliban leader and several cell members were killed in Helmand Province by a Hellfire missile launched by an Apache of the 664 Army Air Corps.67 There was a friendly fire incident in July 2008, in which an Apache fired upon a position thought to be held by enemy forces, but instead hit members of a British patrol.68 This was the first time that a British aircraft had been involved in a blue-on-blue incident in Afghanistan.69

In early to mid 2009, several narcotics and bomb-making facilities were raided by British forces, supported by Apaches.7071 In April 2009, it was reported that an Apache had been used to intercept a suicide bombing attack in Helmand province.72 During the Summer of 2009, British Apaches were an integral component of Operation Panther’s Claw, which was aimed at pushing insurgents out of civilian areas in the runup to the 2009 Afghan Elections.71 During this major offensive, Apaches from the UK rountinely flew alongside US Cobra helicopters to provide air support to soldiers of 3rd Battalion Black Watch and the Royal Marines conducting ground operations.73 During the Summer 2009 operations, a senior Taliban leader, Mullah Mansur, and several accomplices were killed in a precision strike launched by an Apache.74

On 13 October 2010, newspapers reported that Army Air Corps maintenance workers had accidentally sent a live CRV7 missile in regular mail from Camp Bastion to the UK, a mistake which inspections had missed four times; when the missile was discovered it sparked an evacuation, the MOD later changed procedure in regards to the incident.75 On 25 July 2011, the MOD announced that during a combat operation in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of Helmand province, several Afghan children had been injured from crossfire by an Apache; they were flown to Camp Bastion for medical treatment.7677
Naval operations and Libya
External media
WAH-64 Apaches upon the flight deck of HMS Ocean, overhead view
Apache ready for take off on HMS Ark Royal
Footage of nighttime Apache operations

In May 2011, the MOD announced that the Apache fleet had reached 100,000 hours flying time, and was described a “vital battlefield tool in Afghanistan”.78 The Apache was also recognised as having established a “limited maritime strike capability” and were being deployed on vessels such as HMS Ocean.78 On 17 May 2011, the Apache tested its Hellfire missiles against sea targets for the first time, 9 missiles were fired with a success rate of 100%.79 Speculation in the media has suggested that the speed on trialling and establishing an Apache maritime presence is due to the withdrawal of the British Aerospace Harrier II, as a stopgap replacement.80

On 27 May 2011, military officials announced that Apaches would be deployed as part of Operation Ellamy, the ongoing military intervention in Libya. The helicopters operated from the flight deck of HMS Ocean in conjunction with French Eurocopter Tiger helicopters over Misrata.8182 The Apaches were also to assist in Operation Unified Protector, the enforcement of an embargo and no-fly zone upon Libya.83 On 14 June 2011, reports of British preparation to evacuate Yemen emerged, involving Apache and Merlin helicopters operating from Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels off the coast.84

On 4 June 2011, Apaches struck targets within Libya for the first time, when both a radar site and an armed checkpoint were destroyed around the town of Brega.85 Further precision air strikes were launched by Apaches, typical targets being mobile air defenses; occasionally the aircraft were engaged by AK-47 fire from ground troops.8687 In early June, Apaches conducted attacks on Gaddafi loyalists assaulting the town of Misrata.88 On 13 June, British Apaches destroyed several inflatable boats with 30 mm cannon fire, believed to be Libyan Special Forces, before engaging and destroying multiple vehicles along the coastline, including an anti-aircraft system.8990 On 25 June, in coordination with RAF Panavia Tornado strikes, Apaches attacked loyalist infantry and vehicles around Brega and its airfield.91 On 1 July, it was reported that British Apaches were involved in a ‘fierce’ battle around the town of Khoms.92 On 2 July, Apaches raided a military camp near Zawiya, destroying several tanks and a bunker.93 One reason for increased Apache activity in late June was the temporary unavailability of the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, beset multiple times by rough seas which halted carrier operations.94 On 5 August, Apache participation in the rebel push for the town of Zliten was reported.95

By 21 June 2011, the Libyan government had dubiously claimed to have been successful at shooting down dozens of aircraft, including five Apaches; NATO have denied these claims and no Apache losses have been acknowledged to date.9697 On 8 July 2011, the MOD released information on the first month of AH-1 combat operations over Libya; noting that Apaches had engaged targets within Libya on 39 occasions.98 Apache operations over Libya have been heavily influenced and supported by NATO reconnaissance flights and intelligence missions; information is continually relayed to update target information, assess the threat of Surface to Air missiles (SAM), and the presence of civilians, enabling real time changes to mission profiles.99 On 6 August, Apaches struck a military communications facility and troops at Al Watiyah.100 Both the Apache and the Eurofighter Typhoon were withdrawn from Libyan operations in later September 2011 as operational demands decreased.101

United Kingdom

British Army Air Corps
3 Regiment, Army Air Corps – Wattisham Airfield,102 Combat operations since 2006.103
No. 653 Squadron AAC
No. 662 Squadron AAC
No. 663 Squadron AAC
4 Regiment, Army Air Corps – Wattisham Airfield,102 Combat operations since 2006.103
No. 654 Squadron AAC
No. 656 Squadron AAC
No. 664 Squadron AAC
2 (Training) Regiment, Army Air Corps – Middle Wallop104105
No. 668 Squadron AAC
7 (Training) Regiment, Army Air Corps – Middle Wallop106
No. 673 Squadron AAC

Specifications (Apache AH1)
Rearview of a WAH-64 preparing to takeoff, the narrow body is apparent at this angle

Data from AgustaWestland page107 Jane’s Air Forces,108 British Army18

General characteristics

Crew: 2
Length: 17.7 m (58 ft 4 in with rotors turning)
Rotor diameter: 14.6 m (48 ft)
Height: 3.87 m (12 ft 8 in)
Disc area: 168.11 m² (1,809.5 ft²)
Empty weight: 5,165 kg (11,387 lb)
Loaded weight: 8,006 kg (17,650 lb)
Max takeoff weight: 9,525 kg (21,000 lb)
Powerplant: 2× Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca RTM322 turboshaft, 1,566 kW (2,100 hp) each


Never exceed speed: 365 km/h (197 knots, 227 mph)
Maximum speed: 293 km/h (158 knots, 182 mph)
Cruise speed: 259 km/h (140 knots, 161 mph)
Range: 537 km (290 nmi,109 334 mi)
Ferry range: 1,700 km (974 nmi, 1,121 mi)
Service ceiling: 6,400 m (21,000 ft)
Rate of climb: 12.7 m/s (2,500 ft/min)


Guns: M230 Chain Gun, 1156 rounds
Missiles: Hellfire (and Stinger, Starstreak, Sidewinder/Sidearm proposed)
Rockets: CRV7 with Flechette (Tungsten dart) or High-Explosive Incendiary Semi-Armour Piercing (HEISAP) warheads. Until 2008 also MPSM with nine M-73 bomblets.

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