U.S. Army, Wichita State U to “digital-twin” Blackhawk Helicopter
Military looking to 3D scanning, additive manufacturing to extend life of out-of-production aircraft.
The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM) announced it has tasked Wichita State University (WSU) with creating a virtual model or “digital twin” of the iconic Sikorsky UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter. Researchers at WSU’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) say the plan is to completely disassemble the airframe and capture a 3D scan of each structural part. The intent, the partners say, is to deal with the maintenance challenges of maintaining a helicopter fleet that entered Army service over 40 years ago.
The Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter replaced the UH-1 Iroquois Huey helicopter in 1979, with the Alpha model which was followed by the more advanced Lima and Mike models. Those models have been out of production for 15 years and some parts date back 40 years. Creating a digital twin of the helicopter, the US Army says, will help it acquire parts that are out of production while building the capacity to use advanced techniques, such as additive manufacturing, to produce components.
“The intent is to enable readiness across the Army and the UH-60 fleets in the joint service and the applicable foreign military sales environment,” AMCOM Commander Maj. Gen. Todd Royar said. “At the same time, we generate new opportunities to provide parts that are obsolete, low-volume or small quantity. The result is reduced operation and sustainment costs.”
According to AMCOM, the Army faces challenges in obtaining certain parts for older military systems and is often dependent on a single-source provider. In turn, potential manufacturers must rely on 2D drawings, many with changes and updates, that make it difficult to interpret, bid or produce the part. Creating a digital twin of the UH-60L will allow NIAR researchers, the Army and Sikorsky to convert all legacy 2D drawings into 3D parametric models.
“The intent of the UH-60L program is to demonstrate the application of this technology in fleet sustainment operations to increase threat timelines and operational readiness, reduce the cost of documentation, and increase sustainment affordability,” said John Tomblin, senior vice-president for Industry and Defense Programs and NIAR executive director. “The program will also allow the Army to maintain, and in some cases, increase, the size of the current functioning fleet.”