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Army Pilots Become Naval Aviators
by James Dunnigan
July 31, 2011

Britain has been very successful operating their AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships off  HMS Ocean (an amphibious assault ship with a carrier-like flight deck). For one month, starting on June 3rd, four Apaches flew 30 sorties, and used missiles, rockets or 30mm cannon against 39 Libyan targets (armored vehicles, highway checkpoints, radars and patrol boats trying to lay naval mines.) The Apaches flew in pairs, and sometimes all four would go on a mission. The helicopters could get to the targets quickly (important if there were no fighter-bombers in the air) and could get close enough to avoid friendly fire incidents. The gunships operated so close to the ground that they provided a morale boost for the rebels, who rarely got to see their NATO allies in such detail. NATO normally files 150-200 sorties a day in support of the rebels, with 40 percent of those sorties being armed combat aircraft (or helicopters).

Coincidentally, two years ago the British Army decided to train some of their pilots to operate off carriers. This training was conducted aboard the HMS Ocean. Eight pilots practiced day and night landings and takeoffs. While transport helicopters belong to the Royal Air Force, the AH-64s are owned by the army. The navy foresaw the possible need to operate some AH-64s, in addition to the transport helicopters normally carried on helicopter assault ships. Less than two years later, the navy got a chance to do just that. HMS Ocean normally carries 18-20 helicopters.


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