An AH-64E Apache taxis down the flight line at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia. (US Army/Sgt. Andrew McNeil).

AAAA 2024 — After incidents of smoke billowing into AH-64E Apache cockpits and creating breathing and visibility problems for pilots, Boeing and the US Army are moving back to an older generator while also hunting for new options, according to the company.

The Army’s AH-64E Apache fleet initially had one Honeywell generator (called the -7) in it before it was upgraded to another one from Honeywell (the -11), John Chicoli, the director of Boeing’s global services for vertical lift and special operations, told reporters today at a conference outside Denver, Colo. However, that new generator has been creating unsafe conditions for pilots. 

Aircraft with the new generator experienced an uptick in electrical power generator failures, “resulting in potentially hazardous flight conditions and precautionary landings,” the Pentagon disclosed last fall in a series of Selected Acquisition Reports. Pilots flying those smoke-filled helos then faced “breathing and visibility issues,” a Program Executive Office Aviation spokesman explained to Breaking Defense in late September 2023. However, he noted that those incidents had not caused an accident or resulted in a fleet grounding.

As an interim solution, the service opted to retrofit the fleet with a modification that shuts down a compromised generator as soon as a fault is detected, the spokesman wrote in an email at the time.

“A long-term solution is under investigation,” the spokesman said. “Engineering effort will commence once the program is funded.” 

Now, the plan ahead is two-fold. First, the Army has greenlit a transition back to the earlier -7 generator and, by and large, that will be done through attrition, Chicoli explained. 

We’ve seen some improvement … and so readiness is there: We have enough retrofit generators right now [and] it’s not impacting readiness,” he added.

Boeing is now investing in finding a next-generation generator for its Apache fleet, said Chicoli.

Christina Upah, Boeing’s vice president and program manager for attack helicopter programs, explained that the company is heading up the hunt and will present the service with its findings and recommendations. Army officials will ultimately decide if and how to proceed, including which aircraft variants should receive the new generator and how to test it out ahead of fielding.