(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
The Israel Air Force’s fleet of Apache attack helicopters has been declared operational after being grounded for two months, following a deadly crash in early August that left one pilot dead and another severely injured, the army announced Sunday night.
IAF Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin took part in the first flights of the Apache helicopters, the IDF said.
According to a statement released by the IDF Spokesperson’s Office, the decision to return the fleet back to service was based on recommendations in an interim report of the crash. While the Apaches are operational, they are all being subjected to additional flight checks before being flown and until a final report is issued.
On August 7th, an A-model Apache helicopter from the Magic Touch Squadron was returning from a training exercise in southern Israel. It was part of a process to bring the Apaches back to full service after being grounded in June
for a different problem, when pilots alerted the tower at Ramon Airbase they were experiencing a technical malfunction.
According to the findings of the interim report, one of the joysticks leading to the tail rotor disconnected as a result of a malfunction, which was caused by poor installation of the steering column and aggravated by prolonged usage.
The Apache, which made it back to Ramon Air Base despite their difficulty controlling the aircraft, was on its final landing approach when the pilots lost control and crashed between the base’s two runways.
The crash killed Maj. (res) David “Dudi” Zohar
, a father of five, and left the second pilot, Lt. On, critically injured.
Following the crash, former IAF chief Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel grounded the entire fleet of Apaches. According to the IDF, the full investigation, which is being carried out alongside the Apache’s American manufacturer Boeing and the United States army, will take another couple of months.
Israel has two squadrons of Apaches which fly out of the Ramon Air Base in the Negev desert and provide close air support for ground troops.
The fleet was grounded in June, after a technician found a crack in the blade of one of the helicopters during a routine maintenance check. The problem was not found to be widespread and the Apache fleet began to return to operational service in July after that investigation was completed. The Apache that crashed in August was being flown as part of that gradual process.
The head of the Air Force’s Safety and Quality Assurance Department, Col. Yoav, stated in September that the investigation into the deadly August crash detected gaps in the installation guidelines for the joysticks, which are installed in Israel after arriving from Boeing.
As there is no suspicion of negligence, the investigation is examining how the problem with the joystick was not detected during the usual inspections of the helicopters and whether such an erosion could be detected at all.
Instructions for installing the joysticks are expected to be updated according to the findings of the full investigation.