Researchers at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center Aviation Development Directorate–Ames in rotors technical area stationed in Virginia are working to improve the capability of the future of Army aviation.
Army scientists have reached a promising milestone in the field of rotors research for improved capabilities of helicopters in the near future.
According to a recent CCDC Aviation & Missile Center news release, one of the projects the rotors technical area is working is in-flight rotor track and balance. Previously, blades on a helicopter had trim tabs that needed to be adjusted by hand to minimize vibration. Once adjusted, the aircraft would go through multiple track and balance flights to validate the adjustment. Centolanza said automating the process saves time and money. “As we go to FVL, as we go faster, (active rotor track and balance) becomes more and more important. That really (aims towards) sustainment and improved performance, by reducing vibration,” he said.
“(It) can reduce maintenance,” said Tom Maier, AvMC ADD division chief for science and technology. “It has great potential for reducing the number of flights for tracking balance of an aircraft, which typically is quite a bit.”
Blade control is also a project the group is working. A partnership with Sikorsky and German company ZFL was established to demonstrate an electromechanical actuator replacement for a helicopter’s swashplate, which allows the main rotor to change the aircraft’s direction. This device will also contain vibration reduction. It’s a capability that can be incorporated into the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft.
The office was part of AvMC ADD-Eustis until 2013. Due to the nature of its experimental aeromechanics and computational aeromechanics work, the office was reassigned to the AvMC ADD-Ames chain. Moffett Field is the home of the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex, which features a 40-by-80-foot wind tunnel that allows engineers to test aircraft with wind speeds up to 300 knots.
“As part of the ADD structure, our group is aligned with the other aeromechanics tech areas that are part of ADD-Ames,” said Centolanza. “It’s all part of that chain – with experimental aeromechanics, computational aeromechanics, flight controls, the rotors group – but we sit here at Fort Eustis.”
Even though the chain of command has changed, Centolanza said the work remains the same. “I’m still sitting in the same room, at the same desk – just that we fall under a different chain now. Still working similar type projects. So you know, it’s a natural fit, we collaborate with them already.”
Maier said the rotors group is crucial, whether it’s for future Army aviation or modifications to the UH-60. “They’re the subject matter experts that help us determine the best choice there (for FARA), but their core technology is aimed at upgrades.”
Centolanza said he knows the work of the rotors group has present and future implications for the Army.
“We’ve worked very hard in trying to mature those technologies that make the rotor durable. The rotor surviving in the harsh operating environment such as rain erosion, sand erosion, icing – we’ve done a lot of work there as well. And that all goes to readiness. So everything we do technology-wise, we keep (readiness) in mind.”