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Black Hawk helicopter digital twin to extend US Army service

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A Black Hawk helicopter digital twin is to be built using 3D scanning and technology at Wichita State University, Kansas, in order to keep the US Army workhorse operational for future decades.

The Black Hawk entered military service 41 years ago, built by Sikorsky, but has been out of production for nearly 15 years, leading to problems sourcing low volume parts quickly enough.

A partnership between the US Army Aviation and Missile Command, and Wichita State University researchers at the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) are set to produce the UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter digital twin – making it the first Army aircraft to enter a larger military effort with NIAR for legacy aircraft sustainment.

3D scans of the fuselage and components will be undertaken on an operational Black Hawk helicopter that has made an 800-mile journey from Corpus Christi Army Depot in Texas to Wichita, Kansas.

The goal is to have a fully digitised 3D CAD model that can then be easier manufactured in low volumes – either by traditional methods or additive manufacturing – making the bidding process more attractive to suppliers.

As with other military systems, the Army is often dependent on a single-source provider or faces challenges in obtaining certain parts.

In turn, potential manufacturers have to suffer 2D drawings, many with changes and updates, that make it difficult to interpret, bid or manufacture the part.

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“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,” said AMCOM Commander Maj. Gen. Todd Royar.

“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.”

“Certain low-use or low-volume parts don’t receive any bids from vendors. When we need those parts, we need the opportunity to get them in the system quickly – not the two-plus years it sometimes takes right now.”

Black Hawk helicopter digital twin Delivery
The Black Hawk completes its 800-mile journey from Corpus Christi Army Depot in Texas to Wichita, Kansas ready for 3D scanning

“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 VP 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.”

Beyond resolving supply-chain issues, the digital twin will also allow the US Army to improve maintenance issues by creating training programs for its engineers in VR, without the need for a functioning aircraft.

Wichita State University has conducted teardown investigations for the Department of Defense (DOD) for the past 15 years and has been performing digital-twin programs with the commercial industry over the last decade.

In 2018, it began digital twin work for the DOD, and the creation of a digital twin of the US Air Force’s B-1 bomber begins this summer.


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