Former AH-64 Apache Pilot to Present at EAA Museum Speaker Series

Former Boeing AH-64 Apache pilot Jon Bernstein will present about his experiences flying the U.S. Army’s primary attack helicopter as part of the EAA Aviation Museum Aviation Adventure Speaker Series on Thursday, March 21, at 7 p.m.

Jon has an
interesting path that eventually took him to his status as an Apache pilot one unlike his fellow Army
aviators. He’s been interested in military aviation and history since he was a
small child and followed through on that passion by working at the Intrepid
Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York beginning his senior year of high
school. He continued to work at museums through the 1990s, earned his master’s
degree in museum science at Texas Tech University, and during that time,
published his first book about the AH-1 Cobra operating during the Vietnam War.
In January of 2004, with an established career and as a published author, Jon
enlisted in the Army with the intention of becoming an attack helicopter pilot a topic he’d written
about, but was now pursuing as an active participant.

“Close air support
and basically the use of aircraft to support troops on the ground has been my
main focus in my studies since the early 2000s,” Jon said. “I did my second
book on the Apache in Afghanistan and Iraq, so that really helped get my foot
in the door as far as becoming an Apache pilot.”

In the summer of
2004, Jon went to basic training at Fort Knox in Kentucky and was commissioned
the following summer at Fort Lewis in Washington. Jon was in a military history
Ph.D. program at Texas Tech during this time period as well and took a leave of
absence from the program to attend flight school in November of 2005. He was at
Fort Rucker in Alabama from November 2005 to July 2007, where he earned his
wings. He then flew the Apache through December 2011 with the Pennsylvania Army
National Guard.

As far as learning
to fly the Apache, Jon said that it’s a definitely a challenge.

“It’s been described
as one of the hardest aircraft to learn how to fly,” he explained. “That’s
because all of your flight symbology is there in front of your right eye [of
the heads-up display] and learning how to interpret the symbology and make each
piece … do what you need it to do in order to get the aircraft to do what you
need it to do
just learning that takes quite a bit of time. In fact, we discovered that the
guys who play video games pick up on it pretty quickly. Those of us who do not,
it takes a little longer.”

Jon pointed out that
adjusting to the night vision system on the Apache is a particularly
challenging aspect of the flight training program and actually led to a failed
first checkride for him.

“Getting used to
flying on the night vision system when you’re going through flight training on the Apache,
you go through several different phases in learning how to fly it. First is
daytime VFR, then you go through terrain flight and everything and then you get
to the ‘bag’ phase. The bag is learning how to fly the night vision system
where you’re in the back seat completely blacked out. You’re sitting there and
your entire world is that two-inch video screen in front of your right eye.
Learning how to fly just by that imagery and nothing else really takes a lot of
skill. In fact, I failed my first checkride because of it. … Being able to be
consistent at that phase, you’ve got to get in the cockpit every day to learn
how to fly it through visual cues in my right eye. It was absolutely the
hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Jon worked for the
National Guard Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. during his time with the
Pennsylvania Army National Guard, but spent a lot of time flying the Apache in
his years with the service, flying and training about five days per month. As
he was responsible for maintaining the same standards as active duty Apache
pilots, in case his unit was called overseas, it was a significant time

“We were flying
simulated missions all the time. There were certain areas that we had, terrain
flight areas and stuff like that. One of the things I started doing was I
looked at missions that had been flown in Afghanistan and Iraq and started
doing simulated missions based on those. …We were trying to get our guys ready
if we had to go overseas.”

Jon’s service in the
Pennsylvania Army National Guard ended in January of 2012, but his time flying
Apaches is something he still thinks about on a daily basis.

“It’s something that
I miss every day. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was
gone way too quickly. The Apache is an incredible machine.”

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