Bell Team Lands Agreement for US Army CBA/HUMS Helicopter Systems
“Can the US Army Afford Helicopter Modernization?” covered a CBO report addressing the USA’s future helicopter procurement plans. Meanwhile, the existing fleet must still be maintained, lest rising maintenance costs eat into the procurement budget. The future fleet will also need to improve.
There’s a trend around the world toward HUMS (Health & Usage Monitoring Systems). Initial helicopter HUMS systems were developed twin-engine helicopters flown to offshore oil rigs in the North Sea, whose savage weather and freezing seas can quickly combine to turn even relatively minor mechanical problems into life-threatening events. In time, HUMS are spreading to other commercial platforms, while trying to remain cheap enough to stay economically feasible.
As one might expect, the US Army is very interested. Their current maintenance system largely relies on aviation maintenance and parts replacement based on operating hours, or on a set number of days. In contrast, moving to a HUMS system that can monitor issues (diagnostic), predict likely faults before they occur (prognostic), and schedule maintenance based on need, ought to have several benefits. For starters, it would vastly improve reliability diagnosis of the platform as a whole, and help to identify required areas for improvement. It would also cut down on spare parts usage, save man-hours, and keep more helicopters available to fly. Now, a coalition led by Bell Helicopter has submitted a winning proposal…
Textron subsidiary Bell Helicopter recently announced that its proposal team has signed a 3-year, 50/50 cost sharing agreement with the U.S. Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD) to develop and mature state-of-the-art Condition Based Maintenance (CBM, same thing as HUMS) technologies. Bell’s winning proposal for team includes risk-sharing partners Honeywell International and Goodrich Corporation, as well as “a variety” of universities, small businesses, and consultants.
The team will try to create systems that will enable to US Army to reach its Operations Support and Sustainment Technology (OSST) objectives, and enable a complete shift to a Condition Based Maintenance approach that improves operational availability and reduces the overall maintenance burden. The exercise is more of an integration effort than a research effort, however, as their aim is to harness emerging, commercially available technologies.
Elaine Vaught, Bell’s Senior Vice President of Engineering, stressed their interest in creating CBM/ HUMS systems that could be retrofitted to existing helicopters, as well as finding their way into future helicopters.
If Bell can succeed, it would give their own products a boost, while adding a significant business offering in the US military helicopter market. A follow-on integration contract with the US Army would also create opportunities around the world in countries flying similar helicopters. Bell Helicopter release.
- Aviation Maintenance (Feb 1/06) – HUMS: Health And Usage Monitoring Systems
- Aither Engineering – Rotorcraft Health Usage Monitoring (HUMS) Sponsored by: Office of the Secretary of Defense & U.S. Army Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal. Their project involved the use of neural networks in a predictive capacity.