Sustainment and modernization of legacy aviation fleets are continual efforts for the U.S. Army aviation community. Performance enhancements such as lightweighting structures and components present significant challenges to Army aircraft as operators regularly seek to increase capability by adding additional mission equipment to the platforms. In turn, as capabilities and weights have increased, so have the loads and stresses imparted to the aircraft themselves. “As operational requirements for the U.S. Army’s legacy helicopters have increased, the aircraft are becoming heavier,” says James M. White, the team lead for aviation of the U.S. Army Aviation Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), ManTech Aviation Branch (ManTech).
“The Army looks to advanced composite technologies and manufacturing processes to meet the needs of the soldier while improving the affordability of today’s highly complex and sophisticated aviation systems,” says White. “With a high sensitivity to weight, technologies enabling weight optimization or reduction – such as composites – are of paramount importance to the aviation community.” Other benefits of composites include improvements in damage tolerance, functionality and performance, manufacturability and costs, adds White.
During the past nine years, ManTech has invested approximately $26 million in weight reduction of rotorcraft components for platforms such as the CH-47 Chinook, the AH-64 Apache and the UH-60 Black Hawk.
The Chinook CH-47
“When considering the maximum weight threshold of an aircraft, operators must make tradeoffs concerning mission equipment versus mission requirements,” says White. “Therefore, you may carry more fuel, but in turn it may mean less armament – or vice versa. These are tradeoffs that operators may not want to make in an operational environment.”