The Apache Helicopter is without doubt one of the most technologically advanced and versatile pieces of military hardware that the British Army has at its disposal. It is also one of the most deadly. Armed to the teeth with 30mm high explosive dual purpose rounds, Canadian Rocket Vehicle 7’s (rockets), the controversial “Flechettes” (five inch tungsten darts fired form a rocket travelling above mach 3.3), high explosive incendiary semi-armour piercing rockets and the terrifyingly named “Hellfire” missile; you really wouldn’t want to find yourself on the wrong side of its “longbow” radar system. The first true attack helicopter, the Apache is built to kill the enemy with pin-point accuracy from a position of safety – although as Ed Macy demonstrates with great efficacy this is not always the case!
A former member of the Parachute Regiment, Macy found the resolve and strength of character (breaking pretty much most of the rules along the way!) to reinvent himself as an army helicopter pilot having been seriously injured in a road accident. It would be these attributes that would ultimately result in him joining the British Army’s first Apache Squadron. At the time, the Apache was seen as an expensive white elephant by many – although this has since been proven not to be the case. Macy steers well clear of this issue – and rightly so. Much of his Parachute Regiment training, along with his stints giving air support to troops in Northern Ireland would combine with his almost obsessive attention to detail in his work to drive him to the top of his profession.
Whilst his early career as an army helicopter pilot would be very different from his role in the Apache, it provides an essential insight into the man and the pressures upon him. By investing in the Apache, the British Army were investing in the theory of using helicopters as weapons of attack, whereas previously they had been used predominantly in a support capacity. And of course, not only would Macy and the rest of his squadron be employed in a different facet, but the enemy they would be pitted against would have their own version of what the rules were.
Whatever your position on the political decisions behind the British Army fighting in Afghanistan (anyone remember something called the Soviet Army and the fact they lost over 14,000 men in a war they couldn’t win? And that’s not to mention the economic cost, which according to some Soviet figures was in the region of $8.2 billion per year), one has no option but to admire and respect those men and women fighting in that theatre.Some of the conditions Macy describes are unimaginable; the pressure he and his other pilots find themselves under during combat missions would break the average man. Some people have difficulty parking in a supermarket car park – Macy has to learn to safely land a multi-million pound helicopter using purely his instruments – a challenge that even a vastly experienced pilot finds difficult to master!
Andy McNab has described Macy as “a 21st century Top Gun”. Sometimes you get the impression he flies by the seat of his pants – and his style of writing is much the same. “Hellfire” grabs you by the scruff of the neck, and simply refuses to let go. Much as I imagine Macy would do if he had you in the crosshairs of his “target acquisition and designation sight”, and his thumb over the trigger!
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