British commanders have launched an urgent probe after an Apache attack helicopter opened fire with a lethal round whilst being moved across the ground.
It is believed the gun was let off just as the £20million helicopter was being wheeled out of its hangar, possibly to head towards firing ranges.
The Army Air Corps chopper is thought to have unleashed the “negligent discharge” as trainees prepared to train at Wattisham Flying Station, a British Army base.
Military investigators are probing the accidental firing of the Apache’s 30mm gun at the Suffolk station on Wednesday.
In the Army a “negligent discharge” is considered a serious offence and leads to disciplinary action, sometimes docking a soldier’s pay.
The “flesh shredding” bullets on an Apache gun are bigger than the length of a human hand and are more like shells, capable of piercing armour, thick walls and destroying vehicles.
No crew members were on board the craft when it opened fire.
Sources said the weapon fired one of its lethal 30mm cannon rounds whilst the craft was still at the Army Air Corps station on Wednesday.
It is the same type of attack helicopter flown by Prince Harry in Afghanistan, during his second tour of the warzone as a gunner and co-pilot.
He qualified as an Apache flyer at Wattisham Flying Station in 2012 after quitting the Cavalry to follow his dream of flying helicopters.
Although the ammunition fired was a “practice round” it could still have been extremely lethal.
Practice rounds are non-explosive and are used during training as they are far cheaper to use than live ammunition.
But they are potentially extremely deadly if they impact within feet of a human. A source said: “There was a huge flap about this negligent discharge immediately afterwards as if it had hit someone it would have killed them and maybe others too.
“It is very fortunate nobody was injured but it is being taken extremely seriously as firing weapons like this cannot be taken lightly by anyone.
“Even though it is believed the round that was fired was a practice variant, which does not contain high explosives, it was nevertheless potentially lethal.
“Commanders immediately ordered an investigation into what happened and how it happened.”
Sources said the round was a practice round.
Ground crew are believed to have been quizzed by investigators.
An Army spokesman said: “We are aware of an incident at Wattisham Flying Station which is being investigated.”
Sources said there were no civilians injured in the shooting and no property was damaged.