In 2010 Boeing [BA] helicopter programs–the AH-64D Apache, CH-47F Chinook, AH-6 and A160T–made great strides, and 2011 is expected to be another exceptional year, as long as the company keeps execution as the top program priority, according to a company executive.
“Last year was a good year and I will tell you the lesson we learned from that year is execution–execution is important in any program, and so we anticipate we’re going to have another great year,” said Mike Burke, Boeing Attack Helicopters Business Development, at an annual rotorcraft lunch in Washington, D.C.
In 2010, Boeing delivered 57 Apache helicopters and 42 Chinooks.
Boeing started the year with one production line in Mesa, Ariz., where Apaches are produced. There are two production lines there now and soon there will be four: the A160T Hummingbird, the AH-6, the Block II Apache and the Block III Apache.
“We’ve got a lot of interest on all those products, from international customers and we have a lot of interest from our domestic customers,” Burke said.
Boeing last year transitioned its rotorcraft division to separate attack and mobility units. The Apache multi-role helicopter is now in the attack helicopter unit. The Chinook heavy-lift program is now in the mobility unit.
In Mesa, Apache helicopter production and evolution is in full swing, said Tommy Filler, Boeing deputy attack helicopter programs.
Consider, he said, the multi-role attack helicopter has racked up more than 760,000 combat hours flown in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The key is to keep our focus on the current warfight,” Filler said.
Fifty-seven Apache helicopters were delivered last year. That number was made up of 35 aircraft U.S. remanufactured aircraft, 13 war time replacements and nine international customers.
Last year offered challenges to the program, Col. Shane Openshaw, Army Apache program Manager, said. First was recertification of the Block III program in June, after a Nunn McCurdy cost breach due to additional aircraft added to the program. The recertification had 100 percent support from the Defense Department and the Army on the “necessity and criticality” of the program.
Additionally, the Block III program cleared a milestone decision, with low-rate initial production approved and now under way.
Also, the Block II aircraft are part of the delivery of the last four National Guard battalions. Boeing expects to deliver the final Block II aircraft in 2013, Filler said.
In Mesa, Boeing will build 49 Apache aircraft this year–41 U.S. remanufactured aircraft, four international aircraft and this year will deliver the first four Block III aircraft, starting with the first Block III delivery in October.
The Block III production line ramps up this year. “We induct the first aircraft in March,” Filler said. That aircraft will be the first down the new line, showing the assembly of a Block III and proof of manufacturing processes. The second, third and fourth aircraft follow right behind.
Right now, there are eight Block 1 aircraft in various stages of disassembly that will become part of the Block III program, Openshaw said.
The Block III System Development and Demonstration program wraps up this year. Right now there is a logistics demonstration going on, where the Army takes maintenance manuals and other tools, and “they actually prove to themselves that they can maintain the aircraft,” Filler said.