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Grounding of Helicopters Ends

February 19, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Army has lifted an order grounding its fleet of new Apache attack helicopters after accepting the manufacturer’s finding that cracks to the rotor blades posed no safety threat.

Col. Bill Smullen, an Army spokesman, said Tuesday the grounding order was lifted over the weekend and the full inventory of 68 Apaches returned to service. The Army has also lifted a ban on accepting any more of the copters from the McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co.

The Army grounded its Apache fleet as ″a precautionary measure″ on Jan. 27, less than two weeks after small cracks were discovered on the blades of 13 of the high-performance aircraft.

While stressing that there had been no accidents, Army officials acknowledged at the time they were surprised by the discovery of the cracks because the main rotor blades were designed to survive ″tree strikes or ballistic impact caused by enemy weapons.″

Last week, McDonnell Douglas Helicopter announced an investigation had determined the cracks were caused by an improperly designed hand tool that is used during maintenance to adjust the 22-foot-long blade’s trailing edge.

The tool ″apparently caused a little too much torque and caused the cracks,″ spokesman Hal Klopper said then. ″We’ve redesigned the tool to eliminate the problem.″

Smullen said Army aviation experts had conducted their own tests and accepted the McDonnell Douglas findings.

″We lifted the order on Feb. 15 on the basis of Army tests that showed the cracks posed no threat to the safety of the helicopter,″ he said, noting the cracks had been found in ″non-structural″ sections of the blades.

Although the Army has so far acquired only 68 Apaches, the gunship will replace the aging Cobras that were developed during the Vietnam war. The Army intends to acquire 675 of the powerful, twin-engine copters by the end of fiscal 1988 at an overall program cost of about $9 billion.

The Apache is assembled at a plant in Mesa, Ariz. McDonnell Douglas said last week it was continued production of the copter despite the grounding investigation at a rate of about 10 a month.

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