Amid fanfare and after Apache tribal blessing, the most lethal and technologically sophisticated attack helicopter in the world was delivered to the Army by its Mesa manufacturer.
Named after the Native American tribe, the AH-64D Longbow Apache Block III is geared to meet next-generation battlefield challenges with high-tech gear such as sensors that allow pilots to guide unmanned aircraft to their targets, Army officials said Wednesday.
"Our enemy is ruthless," said Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, commanding general of the Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Ala. "They are determined. They are adaptive ... and we must be adaptive and innovative."
Crutchfield was among 500 Army officers and enlisted personnel, Boeing employees and international customers, and public officials that celebrated the delivery of the first five Block III Apaches during Wednesday morning ceremonies at the Boeing Co. plant where the aircraft is made.
Though the festive event portrayed the helicopter's devastating power, White Mountain Apache Tribal Chairman Ronnie Lupe concentrated on its lifesaving ability as he blessed the helicopters in a spiritual ceremony.
Holding eagle feathers as white smoke from a nearby smoldering pot of sage dissipated in heavy wind gusts, Lupe and two other tribal members approached one of the helicopters, touching it with the feathers during the early morning ritual on an asphalt flight line.
"That prayer was to the creator for the warrior in hopes that the warrior would return," said Crutchfield, who is of Native American heritage.
Jerry Gloshay, Lupe's executive assistant, said the tribal leader views the aircraft as a "living bird that is sort of like the Apache warrior."
"He wants to have a blessing, not in the light of the helicopter being on the attack mode, but rather how it is going to protect the family's well-being in the future," he said.
Gloshay said Lupe, a Korean War veteran who served with the U.S. Marine Corps' 1st Division, blessed the original "A" model of the Apache helicopter when it was built in 1984.
The war, which began in 1950, gave birth to the Marines' first helicopter unit specifically formed for combat.
Public officials attending the ceremony talked of a different type of blessing from the continued production of the rotorcraft at the Boeing Co. plant in northeast Mesa.
"I like to say that Mesa is the epicenter of Boeing rotorcraft," Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said. "Apaches bring 4,500-plus employees to this site. ...We look forward to another 30 years of growth, accomplishment and pride."
The helicopters are being built under a $247 million deal with the Department of Defense.
The first phase of production eventually will lead to the manufacture of 690 of the Block III aircraft for the Army, which could extend production for nearly a decade or more, according to Boeing officials.
The Army plans to acquire the helicopters between now and 2026 at a production rate of roughly two battalions per year, according to the Army. Of this amount, 643 will be re-manufactured aircraft and 56 will be new.
Since the first Apache, called the A model, was delivered, more than 1,700 various models of the rotorcraft have been manufactured for the Army and nations that are not considered threats to the U.S.
Boeing in Mesa produces the AH-64D Apache Longbow. The Apache main assembly line is capable of producing 12 aircraft per month.
The site also produces an A160T Hummingbird unmanned rotorcraft and the AH-6i and H-6U helicopters.
The site's Strategic Manufacturing Center produces electrical assemblies and composite parts for a range of Boeing products.
In 2011, Boeing relocated the headquarters of its Unmanned Airborne Systems division to Mesa.
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