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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Quad-A Technology Showcase

The Army Aviation Association of America is gearing up to launch its annual Quad-A convention April 14-17, 2010, in Fort Worth, Texas.

By Charlotte Adams

The Army Aviation Association of America, known as Quad-A, expects to attract at least 7,500 attendees and 300 exhibitors this year. The association is using the entire arena and an annex to the Fort Worth Convention Center, probably at least 225,000 square feet, said Bob Lachowski, director of advertising and industry relations. When Rotor & Wing caught up with him last month, there were only six booths left and he was “just trying to stuff them in where no man has put them before.”

The CH-47F’s new cockpit and flight control system improve situational awareness. Boeing
Quad-A brings together association members, soldiers and industry to receive briefings, hand out awards, view the latest aviation technologies and, though it’s not the intention of the show, do business. There are no flying demonstrations, but the military is bringing in Chinook, Kiowa Warrior, Apache, Black Hawk and Huey helicopters. Sagem Avionics is also bringing a Bell 206 fitted with a glass cockpit configuration it hopes to supply into a trainer upgrade program (see sidebar), but contractor-supplied aircraft—barring unmanned vehicles—are the exception rather than the rule.

All the big guns will be there, such as Boeing, Bell Helicopter, Northrop Grumman, Sikorsky, EADS, BAE Systems, ITT, L-3 and Goodrich. Among the highlights will be a new, featherweight helmet-mounted display (HMD) from BAE Systems and a briefing on the new CH-47F’s combat performance.

Chinook’s New Look

This hardy perennial seems to get younger with age. The Army’s latest F-model—which will be on display at Quad-A—boasts a glass cockpit, digital automatic flight control system and a new, monolithic, machined airframe. The cockpit displays combined with the flight control system improve situational awareness, reduce pilot workload and provide greater stability in the flight envelope, particularly in low-level, brownout conditions. The new airframe promises longer life and lower lifecycle costs with a stronger, more fatigue-resistant structure, less vibration and around half the parts count. Boeing, the aircraft supplier, expects an aggregate buy of 465 CH-47Fs. The new automatic flight control system allows the pilot, for example, to direct the aircraft to a stable, hands-off hover (hover hold) and “beep down” to the ground in one-foot increments, explained Pat Donnelly, Boeing’s CH-47F program manager. The pilot can also beep left and right in one-foot increments. The system increases pilots’ comfort zone in performing maneuvers such as pinnacle landings, which had previously been considered risky missions.

Boeing cited episodes where CH-47Fs have hovered at 8,000 feet on a three-foot ledge while launching or recovering troops. Because the flight control system allows troops to be deployed or received in more challenging terrain, it gives U.S. forces a tactical advantage, allowing them to appear where they are not expected.

Unlike the D-model, the CH-47F, with its Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS) cockpit, wired with the Mil-Std-1553 data bus, provides moving map displays with preloaded and overlays as well as Blue Force tracking. CH-47D pilots, by contrast, took off with a kneeboard and a hard copy map, said Lt. Col. Brad Killen, CH-47F product manager in the Army’s Program Executive Office Aviation at Redstone Arsenal, Ala. One aviator had to be on the map, figuring out the aircraft’s position and calculating time, distance and heading, while the other one flew the airplane.

Killen also stressed the CH-47F’s New Equipment Training Team (NETT) concept, which he said is “kind of outside the normal way we’ve done things previously in the Army and Army aviation.” With NETT, the Product Manager Office provides not only the new aircraft with “go-to-war” mods but also pilot training. Instead of sending aviators who have just returned from combat off to distant training facilities, “we’re taking the training to the units,” Killen said. Although the Product Manager Office was initially slated to train only the first three CH-47F units, it has been directed to train all 12 Active Army CH-47F Combat Aviation Brigades.

Because it maximizes soldiers’ time at home with their families, the NETT training approach is popular and has given the CH-47F product office a good relationship with the units, Killen said. Aviators have overwhelmingly indicated that the CAAS cockpit and the new flight control system reduce workload and provide a more stable flight environment, he said. Pilots also value the increased situational awareness and the new SATCOM capability of the ARC-231 radios. As of early March the Army calculated that the F and D Models together have flown 147,137 hours in Iraq and 104,012 hours in Afghanistan.

Q-Sight

BAE Systems’ Q-Sight is designed to help aviators keep their eyes up and out. BAE Systems
Also at Quad-A will be a new HMD, BAE Systems’ Q-Sight. At 300 to 400 grams, the monocular system is not a heavy-weight, but that’s a good thing. The device, which went into production this year, uses holographic waveguides rather than multiple groups of lenses to move an image to the HMD. So with eyes up and out the aviator sees flight-critical, HUD-style information such as the artificial horizon, turn rate, vertical velocity, heading and radar/barometric altitude. The clip-on, plug-and-play combiner is also retrofittable to analog cockpits, the company said.

Although the main thrust of the system is for the pilot, BAE’s first customer, the Royal Navy, plans to use Q-Sight in a remote sighting application for a side-mounted machine gun in the AgustaWestland Lynx Mk8. Instead of putting his eye up against the thermal weapon sight, the crew chief/gunner can sit back and see what the weapon sight sees, explained John Nix, vice president of business development for avionics. The gunner doesn’t command the gun with his eye but sees what it sees when he moves the weapon. The initial contract will equip a dozen aircraft. The U.S. Army is evaluating Q-Sight and BAE has its eye on the emerging Air Soldier program.

In addition to its small size, the Q-Sight features a relatively large “exit pupil,” BAE said. Exit pupils are like windows through which the pilot sees the symbology or video on the HMD. The smaller the exit pupil size, the more precisely the optics must be aligned with the eye in order for the user to see the presentation. The larger the exit pupil size, the easier the initial adjustment and the more forgiving the fit under high-vibration conditions. Q-Sight provides 768-by-768-pixel resolution and a 30-degree-circular field of view.

The HMD is compatible with night vision goggles, which flip down over it, the company said. Q-Sight also shifts the HMD’s center of gravity toward the helmet, thus reducing the impact weight has on the neck and consequent fatigue. The Q-Sight 150 model, as opposed to the Royal Navy’s Q-Sight 100, will include helmet tracking, which could allow applications where the aviator slews a sensor or weapon to the movement of his helmet, controlling it hands-free.

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