In his earlier book, Apache, the author established himself as a first-rate front-line chronicler of the air war in Afghanistan. In this present despatch, Macy focuses on some key episodes from his 2006 tour, while also filling in details of his earlier life as a troublesome teenager and gung-ho paratrooper, whose ambition to join the SAS was brought to a painful and abrupt end through injuries sustained when he was knocked off his bicycle into the path of an oncoming car.
With his tabbing days over, Macy looked for something new to provide a military challenge, and was accepted into the Army Air Corps as a helicopter pilot. Clearly a driven man, he was determined to get to the top of his profession; he harboured hopes of becoming a special forces pilot working with the SAS. But the arrival of the upgraded US-built AH-64 Apache attack helicopter refocused his goal to be one of the few to pilot this awesome weapon of war. Vastly expensive, the Apache is a helicopter of superlatives, a quantum leap in technology when compared to the Gazelle and Lynx helicopters in British service.
The first part of Hellfire is chiefly devoted to Macy’s training in the Apache and how the machine works: its fearsome armament of 30mm chain gun, unguided rockets and laser-guided Hellfire missiles, and the extraordinary array of electronics that enable the two crew members to fly the machine and deliver its weaponry with pin-point accuracy. It would take little exaggeration to say that Macy loves the Apache, and he communicates this enthusiasm to the reader.
Although there is some inevitable repetition with events described in Apache, this does not detract from the thrill of the battle scenes that figure in the second half of the book. For the soldiers of 656 Squadron, this was their opportunity to convince the British Army that the Apache was the right weapon for this war. Macy describes his part in Operation Mutay (4 June 2006), which makes an illuminating comparison with the on-the-ground 3-Para narratives from Stuart Tootal and Patrick Bishop. Macy was also the first British pilot to fire a Hellfire missile in anger, taking out a heavy anti-aircraft machine-gun in Now Zad – hence the title of the book. There are also many excellent photographs and maps to illustrate the main missions. The paperback edition provides a novel opportunity to link with extra online material that expands the scope of the printed book, with author interviews and footage of the Apache in action (www.harperplus.com/hellfire).
Harper Press, 468 pages, £7.99 (p/b); HarperPress, 468 pages, £18.99 (h/b)
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