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Idaho National Guard Apache Night Mission
Idaho National Guard Apache Night Mission
Nothing can ruin the plans of a pilot skimming the earth at 120 knots in pitch darkness like an unseen power line. Except maybe an insurgent with a rocket propelled grenade or the myriad other things that threaten low-flying helicopters. One of the U.S. Army’s most fearsome weapons, the AH-64A Apache attack helicopter is really only as good as its ability to evade or destroy the dangers that lurk on nighttime battlefields. Now the Apache’s original Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) system is being replaced with the most advanced technology available, Lockheed Martin’s Arrowhead Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor (M-TADS/PNVS), or simply Arrowhead. In 2000, the Army awarded a $78.5 million development contract to Lockheed Martin and Apache manufacturer Boeing to begin the Arrowhead upgrade, and deliveries began in 2005. Last June, Lockheed Martin was awarded the Lot 3 follow-on production contract, valued at $385 million. Work is being performed by the company’s Missiles and Fire Control unit in Orlando and Ocala, Fla. As of this year, $925 million had been committed for the U.S. Arrowhead program, with a Lot 4 contract expected this month. The Army requires 704 Arrowhead systems, which are being installed in theater. Four battalions are scheduled to be equipped by the end of 2008, and 10 by the end of 2010. Fielding will be completed to the Longbow Apache fleet by 2011, according to the Army. The system will be installed on British AH Mk 1 Apaches beginning in 2009, and Arrowhead is the sensor of choice for the Apache Longbow Block III upgrade, slated to begin production in 2011. Descended from the sensor suite of the canceled RAH-66 Comanche scout helicopter program, the Arrowhead M-TADS/PNVS provides significant improvements over the current Apache FLIR in all areas. It has received rave reviews from the first Arrowhead-equipped Apache battalion, which has been putting the system to the test in Iraq. The Army says Arrowhead is the number one requested upgrade from Apache users. With Arrowhead, pilots can see better and further at night than ever before, more than double the range of the legacy system. In fact, Apache crews can finally see further at night than the range of their weapons, allowing them to strike from the same standoff distances they would enjoy during the day. Spotting wires and power lines or insurgents crouching in doorways is also much easier. The whole of the improvement is greater than the sum of its parts because Arrowhead drastically reduces the intense pucker factor associated with maneuvering a helicopter in the dark while man and nature conspire to kill you. "The crews are much more relaxed and they can stay in the seat for six or seven hours now, whereas with the first generation system, which was designed back in the 70s, you’d fly a two-hour mission and you were pretty much soaked through your flight suit just from the stress," said Bob Gunning, Lockheed Martin’s Apache Fire Control program director. In Iraq, he said, some Arrowhead-equipped Apache pilots are logging as many as 100 flying hours per month, more than most airline pilots. Maintainers are as pleased with the new system as the pilots, says the Army. Arrowhead’s modularity and vastly improved reliability have taken the pressure off crew chiefs and eliminated one of three levels of maintenance, saving nearly $1 billion in operation and support costs over the system’s 20-year life, according to Lockheed Martin. When Arrowhead components fail, which occurs less frequently than with the legacy system, maintainers quickly locate the problem with the system’s built-in diagnostics. They then replace the bad part right on the flight line. Broken modules are shipped back to Lockheed Martin for repair and returned to the unit in 15 days on average. "They’re setting records for flying hours with the new systems because they can," Gunning said. "The pilots can handle it better and it’s a lot less maintenance and consequently it’s a lot less operational support cost for the Army." Second generation Widely used on a variety of ground vehicles, ships and aircraft, FLIRs work by sensing temperature differences. Everything radiates heat in the infrared spectrum, and FLIRs build images by comparing the objects’ heat to their background. The heart of the system is an array of detector elements which is cooled to 67 degrees Kelvin (-339 Fahrenheit). The focal array, made up of photon-gathering units called detectors or pixels, looks at the world through a set of optics similar to a telescope. Because the array is so cold, it is extremely sensitive to differences in temperature. The FLIR unit electronically takes data gathered by the detectors, runs it through an image processor and then displays it to the user. First generation arrays, built in the 1980s, had one row of anywhere from 120 to 180 detectors. The system scanned across the detectors, picking up
Kind strangers
Kind strangers
This is Tony and Tim. At the airport bar, Tim overheard my plight (been here since noon, flight cancelled, airline won't foot me a hotel room) as I talked to my parents on the phone, who had looked up some hotels for me. Tim used his "kung fu phone" to look up more and make some calls for me. They ended up offering to drive me around to the airport hotels to compare prices, which is what we were doing when I took this picture. In the end, I got a room and Tony got me his AAA discount. Thanks, guys!

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