You were in the Paras before retraining as a ’copter pilot. Which training was tougher?
The Parachute Regiment selection in the mid-1980s was brutal. I got beaten up all through training – they’d just run down the corridor and kick you in the testicles to see if you could take it. It isn’t like that now. I had to leave after getting knocked off my bike by a car and being left for dead. But my goal was to get back to the front line, so a friend suggested the Army Air Corps. The helicopter training was tougher mentally. The Apache is so advanced that even people with a lot of flying hours can’t take it all in. But it was a passion. It took two years to learn. Then we practised for a year before Afghanistan.
What’s the trickiest feature to master?
Learning to fly at night. The Apache pilot’s helmet has a monocle mounted an inch in front of your right eye. It has sensors built into it so, wherever your head moves, the aircraft knows exactly where you’re looking. If I move my head so the crosshairs on my monocle are over a vehicle and I pull the trigger, the rounds will land on that target. At night, a thermal picture of the world outside and lots of other information are beamed on to the monocle, and the trick is being able to fly with just what you can see on that one eye. There’s a slight time delay, too, so you can get a bit nauseous.
Is it true that you can now read two books at once?
Yes. I also put my camcorder on the dashboard so I could see what I looked like. I had crazy eyes, working independently of each other.
Any other top gizmos on board?
The Fire Control Radar, which looks like a big Swiss cheese on the top. The patrol leader just needs to pop his radar a couple of feet above the horizon and do a three-second sweep and it will pick up 1,024 targets, prioritise the top 256 and display the top 16 inside your aircraft. You can then send data to everybody else, so each Apache has its own targets and they can each fire 16 missiles without showing themselves.
What would it take to shoot down an Apache?
There is always the golden bullet that could hit a critical component, but it is the most indestructible aircraft ever built – bullets either bounce off or pass through. It also automatically deploys flares to attract away surface-to-air missiles. And they’ve got double hydraulics, double engines, two weapons processors…
What was your closest shave under fire?
Being shot at by a trained anti-aircraft gunner in Afghanistan. He was pouring fire at me and my mate in the front was going: “We’re gonna die!” The first burst was really close, so I flipped the aircraft on its back to go slower but the rounds cut right across the nose of the aircraft. Then, to get speed on, I turned the aircraft on its side, which made it drop upside down towards the ground. By this time, I knew where he was and blew the building to smithereens.
The chopper has two crew: do you prefer being flier or gunner?
It’s sexy to fly, but when you’re at war you want to be in that front seat gunning.
What’s your favourite weapon?
I love them all. We can fire cannons in bursts of 20 rounds. Each round is like a big grenade that penetrates armour, then fragments and bursts into flame. But if the enemy is in the trees, we’ll fire Flechette rockets: you get 80 5in tungsten darts coming out of each one. They strip a place completely. It only needs to pass your arm and it will suck the muscles off. But, if we don’t want anyone to know we’re coming, we can sit 8km back and fire a Hellfire missile. You can also use them in close.
What was your best shot?
When I flew straight toward the earth, put a Hellfire missile vertically down a tunnel and blew up the Taliban who had just run down it.
You won a medal for your daring rescue at Jugroom Fort in 2007. What happened?
Initially I was to escort a Chinook to Jugroom Fort, a Taliban position, to pick up casualties. Then the mission changed to rescuing a Marine missing in action, Mathew Ford. We thought we could land our two aircraft with four Marines strapped on the side, grab Mathew and get back in two-and-a-half minutes. But the dust from landing was horrendous, like a foot of talcum powder, and the second aircraft had to land in the next field. When the dust settled, I saw two Marines stuck in a ditch with Mathew, who was a man mountain. I jumped out and we heaved him up, but our feet just sank in the field. I was pinned down by Mathew and could see muzzle flashes. The other pilot and his Marines ran to help and the ground in front of them was erupting. I have no fear of dying, but I didn’t want to die there. With another 5m to go, Carl, my pilot, powered up the aircraft and the dust provided cover, so we clipped Mathew on the footstep and got out. Then we found out at Camp Bastion that he was dead, which was devastating.
Have you ever flown a mission you didn’t believe in?
In hindsight, a bit. When we hit a Taliban command post at Koshtay, we didn’t know before we went in that the Taliban had a prison there. I’m not bloodthirsty. I don’t want to kill innocent people. The tactical decision was right, but I wish I’d not been on that operation. I don’t think anyone got out alive.
How much would it cost to buy an Apache?
£42 million if you wanted all the weapons. Add £6 million for the two pilots.
What was your longest spell in the cockpit?
Twelve hours. Although once I came back from a mission and had to go straight back out four times in a row.
How do you manage, toilet-wise?
There are bags. But you’ve got to loosen your harness, pull your jacket strap out the way, undo your zip, pull your fireproofs aside… By the time one guy had done that, he’d started to wee and, at pressure, had a blowback, covering himself and the cockpit in urine. No one used it after that. You just pee yourself.
Ed Macy is a pseudonym. Why don’t you reveal your true identity?
All Apache pilots are wanted by al-Qaeda and, by writing a book, they now know who killed certain people in certain places. I’m not married, I don’t vote and I don’t own my own home to avoid being traced.
Finally, what was your best moment as an Apache pilot?
When FHM said flying the Apache was the top job – above F1 racing driver. We were hopping around, celebrating, going: “How cool is that! Lewis Hamilton, eat your heart out!”
Apache by Ed Macy is out now in paperback, published by Harper Perennial (£7.99)