Confessions Of An Apache Pilot: What It's Like To Fly The Military's Most Heavily Armed Attack Helicopter

Mandatory Fun
An AH-64D Longbow Apache helicopter lands during a combined arms demonstration as part of South Carolina National Guard Air & Ground Expo 2009 at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Oct. 10, 2009. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Roberto Di Giovine)

Welcome to Confessions Of, an occaisional series where Task & Purpose's James Clark solicits hilarious, embarrassing, and revealing stories from troops and vets about their job, billet, or a tour overseas. Are you in an interesting assignment and think you might have something to share? Email with your story.

"Nothing is more powerful than a young boy's wish. Except an Apache helicopter. An Apache helicopter has machine guns and missiles. It is an unbelievably impressive complement of weaponry, an absolute death machine."

While this Patrick Stewart quote may be from an R-rated movie about a talking teddy bear, it's remarkably accurate. After all, the old warhorse has been kicking ass since it was first adopted by the U.S. Army in the 1980s. Designed to get into trouble fast and put it down even faster, the AH-64 Apache usually comes bristling with ordnance, from an M230 chain gun firing 30mm rounds to Hellfire missiles and rockets.

In the words of Tyler Merritt "it's basically a fucking flying tank."

The CEO of the popular veterans clothing company Nine Line Apparel and the founder of the non-profit Nine Line Foundation, Merritt spent three years in the pilot's seat of an Apache, including a yearlong tour to Iraq between 2008 and 2009, before he left the service in 2014 following a lengthy stint as a special operations air mission commander.

Task & Purpose had a chance to ask Merritt what it's like to fly the Apache during a gun run, what shenanigans he and his guys got up to downrange, and about that one time he almost got busted for flying an attack helicopter while intoxicated.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Task & Purpose: Imagine you're talking to someone who's never seen a helicopter. In a few words, describe the Apache.

Tyler Merritt: It's basically a fucking flying tank. Usually with angry jaws on the side, just to fuck with people.

Tyler Merritt during his 2008-2009 deployment to Iraq.Photo courtesy of Tyler Merritt

Why do you think the Apache is such a popular helicopter in the military community?

Most guys who join the military are not in it for the money, they're there to blow shit up. And if you can fly around and blow things up, as a kid who played army, it doesn't get much cooler than than that. In reality, there's nothing cooler than being able to respond to a request for fire, or to help the guys on the ground.

When's the worst time to be an Apache pilot?

Flying during the day when the air conditioning breaks. That cockpit turns into a fucking sauna like no other. I'm talking canopy greenhouse that will get to about 138 degrees, and that's where all your electronics start to fail. You cannot escape the heat. You can't open your windows, so it gets ungodly hot.

When's the best time?

At night, because we own the night. A lot of shenanigans go on at night, because people forget that. Flying at night is by far my favorite.

Tyler Merritt during his 2008-2009 deployment to Iraq.Photo courtesy of Tyler Merritt

Are there certain things that only Apache pilots can do?

Now that I'm out of the Army, I have no problem telling you these things...

I got hammered one time at a Delta compound in Iraq when I didn't realize that their Irish coffee was truly Irish coffee and had whiskey in it. So after I drank a few, we had to fly back. I thought it was just flavored. Turned out it wasn't.

We were flying low level, from Baghdad back up north, but I wasn't on the controls, and I only had a couple glasses!

So what, is that like drunk backseat driving?

I think it's more drunk co-piloting.

What's it like doing a gun run in an Apache helicopter? Can you describe how it feels, the sound, sensation, sight, etc?

TM: Man, it's like sex. I have the hairs on my arms pricked up just thinking about it, and if it's not too weird to say, I have a bit of a freedom boner.

There's nothing much better if you're into guns and into flying, and get to combine the two...There's a whole level of complexity involved. You're not just dealing with shooting and terminal ballistics, you're dealing with aerial ballistics. There's math and it's complicated: projectile shift, trajectory jump, all these things come into play. Shooting the 30 mm is pretty cool. The hellfire is totally anticlimactic. I thought there'd be a huge ball of fire, but it's just like pffffft.

But the rockets. The 2.75-inch hydra rockets. That thing is awesome. You don't have weapons processors that are doing the ballistic calibrations in your eyeball. It boils down to pilotage and skill.

I watched my master gunner, who was a crazy mother fucker, shoot a rocket around the building. He curved a rocket around a building. You only get that after your fifth year-long deployment to a combat zone.

Are there any traditions that are unique to Apache pilots?

TM: [Laughs] Yeah. Okay, so this is something my platoon did, and keep in mind we had no females in our unit at this time, and we got bored. We had high high energy, lots of craziness going on, and then the rules of engagement changed… So we'd go to the desert and fly around if there was nothing we needed to prosecute as a target, we'd go through the salt fields on the way back. And the tradition is that whoever is the worst shot with the rocket — and keep in mind that the rocket is the only one you need skill to shoot — whoever is the furthest from the target, when you land, you had to drop your pants and walk back through the flightline with your genitals hidden behind you, yelling "I'm a pretty pretty princess."

I didn't make up the tradition. I just abided by it, and luckily I never had to do it. I wasn't always the best, but I was never the worst.

That's the fucked up humor that military guys use to pass the time. It's not the right answer, and it's not condoned, but you've gotta balance between professionalism and morale. And what people don't understand is that we deal with tragedy with dark humor.

It's a way of coping. People see it as a bunch of juvenile idiots that are just immature. I like to think of it as a way to escape that reality. A way to desensitize yourself to the fact that you just went and killed people.

Yeah. You need humor. You need an outlet.

Right, but you always get that one guy who doesn't get practical jokes. Like you take someone's beret, put it in water, and put it in the freezer so they'd have to chisle it out. And you're like "yeah, that's funny."

But then I'd go open up my flight bag to grab my glasses and they're broken. And he's like "oh, I got you good!"

No, you just destroyed my shit. You don't get how practical jokes work.

SEE ALSO: He Built A $70 Million T-Shirt Empire. Now He's Building A Village For Homeless Vets

WATCH NEXT: Nine Line Foundation Is Building A Village Of Tiny Homes For Homeless Vets

Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr carry placards depicting U.S. President Donald Trump at a protest against what they say is U.S. presence and violations in Iraq, duri in Baghdad, Iraq January 24, 2020. (REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani)

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Iraqis rallied in central Baghdad on Friday calling for the expulsion of U.S. troops, but the protest mostly dissipated after a few hours despite fears of violence following a cleric's call for a "million strong" turnout.

Populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr convened the march after the U.S. killing of an Iranian general and an Iraqi paramilitary chief in Baghdad this month. His eventual decision to hold it away from a separate anti-government protest camp, and away from the U.S. embassy, looked pivotal in keeping the march peaceful.

Read More
World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient Maj. Bill White, who at 104 is believed to be the oldest living Marine, has received a remarkable outpouring of cards and support from around the world after asking the public for Valentine's Day cards. "It hit me like a ton of bricks. I still can't get over it," he said. (CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD)

STOCKTON — Diane Wright opened the door of an apartment at The Oaks at Inglewood, the assisted care facility in Stockton where she is the executive director. Inside, three people busily went through postal trays crammed with envelopes near a table heaped with handmade gifts, military memorabilia, blankets, quilts, candy and the like.

Operation Valentine has generated a remarkable outpouring of support from around the world for retired United States Marine, Maj. Bill White. Earlier this month, a resident at The Oaks, Tony Walker, posted a request on social media to send Valentine's Day cards to the 104-year-old World War II veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart.

Walker believed Maj. White would enjoy adding the cards to his collection of memorabilia. The response has been greater than anyone ever thought possible.

Read More

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty.

A spokesman for the Taliban has told a Pakistani newspaper that the militant group is hoping to reach an Afghan peace deal with U.S negotiators by the end of January.

The comments by Suhail Shaheen on January 18 to the Dawn newspaper come after negotiators from the Taliban and the United States met for two days of talks in Qatar.

Read More
The three Americans killed in a C-130 crash in Australia on Thursday were all veterans (left to right) Ian H. McBeth, of the Wyoming and Montana Air National Guard; Paul Clyde Hudson, of the Marine Corps; and Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., of the Air Force. (Coulson Aviation courtesy photo)

The three Americans killed in a C-130 air tanker crash while fighting Australian bushfires on Thursday were all identified as military veterans, according to a statement released by their employer, Coulson Aviation.

The oldest of the three fallen veterans was Ian H. McBeth, a 44-year-old pilot who served with the Wyoming Air National Guard and was an active member of the Montana Air National Guard. McBeth "spent his entire career flying C-130s and was a qualified Instructor and Evaluator pilot," said Coulson Aviation. He's survived by his wife Bowdie and three children Abigail, Calvin and Ella.

Read More

MIAMI/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he will release details of his long-delayed peace plan for the Middle East before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his election rival Benny Gantz visit the White House next week.

The political aspects of the peace initiative have been closely guarded. Only the economic proposals have been unveiled.

Read More