Posted by John McHaleWASHINGTON, 26 Oct. 2010. Boeing [NYSE: BA] announced it won a $247 million contract to begin Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) for the U.S. Army's AH-64D Apache Block III helicopter. The contract covers production of eight Apache Block III helicopters in the Lot 1 configuration. Key enhancements for aviators will include an improved drive system featuring the 701D engine, composite main rotor blades and a new split-torque face gear transmission, as well as increased networked communications capabilities.The Apache Block III features open systems architecture and 26 advanced technology improvements, including level 4 unmanned aerial vehicle control for increased situational awareness. This helicopter configuration has already demonstrated the flexibility to rapidly integrate technology changes throughout its service life."The road map for the Apache Block III program has been clearly defined and the U.S. Army and Boeing are successfully working together to provide these advanced attack helicopters to soldiers in the field," says Lt. Col. Dan Bailey, Apache Block III product manager for the Army."Working together throughout the Apache Block III program's system development and demonstration phase since 2006, the Army, Boeing, and our industry teammates have achieved our objectives on cost and on schedule," says Scott Rudy, Apache Block III program manager for Boeing. The current Army acquisition objective is for 690 AH-64D Apache Block III aircraft. The helicopters will be assembled, flight tested and delivered from the Boeing Global Strike facility in Mesa, Ariz."The Apache Block III helicopter program is the cornerstone of our U.S. Army customer's plan of continued sustainment through modernization," says Tommy Filler, acting vice president, Boeing Apache and AH-6 Programs.An Acquisition Decision Memorandum signed by the Department of Defense on Oct. 7 authorized the program to enter the LRIP phase to produce 51 aircraft. The first LRIP delivery is scheduled for October 2011.