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Private First Class Robert Ibrahim, 19, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., prepares a metal patch for a bullet hole in an Apache Longbow attack helicopter. Ibrahim repairs aircraft with the 1st Attack Reconnaisance Battalion of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, which is currently attached to the 25th Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade.

Private First Class Robert Ibrahim, 19, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., prepares a metal patch for a bullet hole in an Apache Longbow attack helicopter. Ibrahim repairs aircraft with the 1st Attack Reconnaisance Battalion of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, which is currently attached to the 25th Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade. (Monte Morin / S&S)

Private First Class Robert Ibrahim, 19, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., prepares a metal patch for a bullet hole in an Apache Longbow attack helicopter. Ibrahim repairs aircraft with the 1st Attack Reconnaisance Battalion of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, which is currently attached to the 25th Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade.

Private First Class Robert Ibrahim, 19, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., prepares a metal patch for a bullet hole in an Apache Longbow attack helicopter. Ibrahim repairs aircraft with the 1st Attack Reconnaisance Battalion of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, which is currently attached to the 25th Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade. (Monte Morin / S&S)

Soldiers with the 1st Attack Reconnaisance Battalion of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade make repairs to an Apache Longbow helicopter recently at Contingency Operating Base Speicher in Iraq.

Soldiers with the 1st Attack Reconnaisance Battalion of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade make repairs to an Apache Longbow helicopter recently at Contingency Operating Base Speicher in Iraq. (Monte Morin / S&S)

TIKRIT, Iraq — When it comes to maintaining a fleet of the world’s most lethal attack helicopters, slow days are rare.

As he examined a handful of AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters in various states of dismantlement on Saturday, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Dave Nolan guessed that his unit was on its way to setting a record for combat hours flown and aircraft serviced, inspected and repaired.

“We are very busy here,” said the 46-year-old from Boston. So far, his unit, the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, has flown roughly 7,500 combat hours.

The two most recent repair jobs involved a pair of Apaches that each were struck by a single 7.62- millimeter bullet round while flying missions southwest of Tikrit. One round struck the main body of the aircraft, below the cockpit, while the other pierced the tail boom of the other helicopter.

The attacks, which occurred the day before, failed to cause serious injury or damage to the aircraft, and none of the crew suffered harm.

In the last three months that the unit has been deployed to Iraq, at least six Apaches have been struck by gunfire, although none have been shot down.

“This is a $27 million helicopter,” Nolan said wryly. “It’s not supposed to get shot.”

The Fort Bragg, N.C.-based 1-82, or “Wolfpack,” currently is attached to the 25th Infantry Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade and flies missions throughout Iraq. A team of army and civilian mechanics – nearly all prior servicemembers — keep the Wolfpack flying.

Vern Staving, 27, of Oakdale, Pa., is just one such civilian mechanic. Staving served with the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq as a mechanic in 2003. Working as a civilian definitely had its advantages, he said.

“In the Army there are a lot of other things you have to do in addition to your job,” Staving said. “We get to do a lot more aircraft maintenance here as civilians. You get to focus on the maintenance.”

The Boeing-built Apache, which weighs roughly eight tons fully loaded, was designed specifically to kill tanks at night. It is packed full of electronics and contains more than 1,000 miles of electrical wiring. A single bullet strike can inflict damage that takes a very long time to repair, depending on where it hit the aircraft.

“It’s a fine computer,” Nolan said of the Apache. “Shoot a bullet through your Dell and see how that works out.”


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