US Army, March 02, 2015 - FORT STEWART, Ga. by Sgt. William Begley - The Soldiers and pilots of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade took to the sky at the Multi-Purpose Range Complex at Fort Stewart to sharpen their skills in the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter during aviation aerial gunnery training Feb. 17-27.
According to Maj. Sean Keefe, operations officer, 1st Bn. 3rd Aviation Reg., the AH-64 Apache pilots were there to complete their semi-annual qualification on the aircraft weapon systems.
“This gunnery will test the pilot’s ability to find targets and shoot them with the 30 millimeter guns, their rockets, and also Hellfire missiles,” Keefe said.
Keefe said the pilots would engage on three different gunnery tables. The first is a practice table, the second being the initial qualification table, and the third being the final qualification table which is performed at night.
“The semiannual gunnery training is important because our pilots need to be qualified before they can deploy with other units,” Keefe said. “It’s also important for the pilots to maintain to maintain proficiency with the weapons systems on their aircraft.”
First Lt. Michael Arcangelo, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Bn. 3rd Aviation Reg., is an AH-64 Apache pilot who took part in the gunnery training.
“It’s a rush. When we come out here for aerial gunnery this is what we’ve trained for all year long, so it’s definitely the highlight of our year,” Arcangelo said.
Arcangelo recently flew in a combat zone during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2013. He takes his responsibility as an AH-64 Apache pilot very seriously. He knows that his aircraft skills might very well be the difference between life and death for the ground troops he supports.
“We take pride in covering the ground guys and supporting their mission so we’re glad to help,” Arcangelo said. “It’s one of two chances we get during the year to stay proficient in the Apache and its mission to find and destroy the enemy and we enjoy it.”
The gunnery training had one very unique event that took place. An event that had not happened before in 3rd CAB history. Some of the crew chiefs got to go for a “front-seat ride” in the legendary attack helicopter.
According to Sgt. 1st Class Jon Wisman, Company D, 1st Bn. 3rd Aviation Reg., you are more likely to see a unicorn than ride as a passenger in an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.
“I’ve been in aviation over 16 years, and the Army over 19 years and I’ve heard about the front seat ride but I’ve never known anyone who has done it,” Wisman said. “When the pilot whipped the aircraft around to return to target it was exhilarating. I’ve wanted to do this my whole career.”
Wisman said that for Soldiers like Spc. Eric Van Beek, Company A, 1st Bn. 3rd Aviation Reg., this action by the leadership is extremely meaningful. Van Beek is an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter crew chief, and the front seat ride proved historic for him personally.
“Believe it or not after five years in the Army and two deployments, this was the first helicopter I have ever ridden in,” Van Beek said. “It was unbelievable, and it was a lot of fun.”