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Monday, November 22, 1999 :

US Army speeding repair of Apache helicopters

WASHINGTON , USA ( Reuters )- The U.S. Army said on Monday it will speed up replacement of suspect rotor bearings and repair of transmissions to return all of its fleet of 743 elite Apache attack helicopters to flight by early next summer.

The service had announced earlier this month after problems were identified following crashes that as many as half of the Army's AH-64 helicopters, built by Boeing Co. , could be grounded for up to a year awaiting replacement parts.

But Army Secretary Louis Caldera and Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki said on Monday the Army was working closely with defense contractors Lucas Aerospace, a division of Boeing, and Borg-Warner to accelerate production and installation of parts in order to cut flight delays.

``The Army now anticipates the correction of the problems by early summer 2000,'' the statement said.

Dozens of the premier attack helicopters have been returned to service since the Army said on Nov. 5 that many in the fleet contained suspect tail rotor bearings that caused a crash in January at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

That helicopter was destroyed and the two-man crew suffered minor injuries.

On Nov. 12, the Army said it was also inspecting the Apache fleet's transmission accessory gearboxes after it was determined that two clutches failed in a gearbox on an Israeli AH-64 on June 1, causing the helicopter to crash.

Monday's statement said the initial repair parts will be sent first to Apache training sites and key operational areas such as Kosovo and South Korea.

``We will maintain our war-fighting capability,'' said Shinseki. "While this is a peacetime safety issue and it impacts on readiness reporting, we will fly our Apache helicopters for wartime.

Caldera praised Lucas Aerospace and Borg-Warner for speeding up production and delivery of parts to make any needed repairs to the fleet.

Pentagon and Army officials said earlier this month that between 300 and 400 of the Army's best attack helicopters would remain grounded at least briefly and some of them for perhaps nine months while awaiting replacement bearing assemblies for the tail rotors.

Six Army Apaches have crashed this year, including two during training in Albania before the spring NATO air campaign against Kosovo. But the Army said the rotor bearings had nothing to do with the crashes in Albania.

Army officials said investigators found that a heating process used by Boeing to make the bearing assembly extra hard led to stress corrosion fractures in the bearing.

The service said the clutches that failed and caused the Israeli Apache crash were shown by engineering analysis to be experiencing wear. While the Army seeks to find out the exact cause of the wear and how to prevent it, gearboxes with more than 1,000 flight hours are being replaced.

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