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Low, Slow And Dangerous
by James Dunnigan
November 24, 2009

While the U.S. Air Force had its safest flying year ever in 2009, army aviation took heavy losses, even though aviation accidents and fatalities are being reduced. Last year, there were ten aviation related deaths. That was higher this year, but nothing like what it was in 2003 (83 deaths) and 2005 (85 dead). The army, unlike the air force, has far more aircraft actually in combat. Air force warplanes tend to stay at high (out of range of ground fire) altitudes. The army helicopters are down near the ground, where they can get shot at, and are more likely to run into obstacles and crash.

Some helicopters are more susceptible to damage than others. In the last 26 years, the expensive AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship has incurred damage totaling $5.7 billion. The AH-64 is a combat aircraft that goes looking for a fight, while the other principal army helicopters (UH-60, UH-1 and CH-47) are transports that seek to avoid enemy fire. In that same 26 years, UH-60s incurred $2.2 billion in damage, with CH-47s suffering $2.7 billion worth.

During the last 26 years, the UH-64 replaced the UH-1. But even with that, the older UH-1 suffered over 5,000 accidents, compared to 3,000 for the AH-64 and 2,800 for the UH-60 (which was designed to be much less accident prone than the UH-1 it replaced.)

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