Department of defence scientists will use a retired US Navy Seahawk helicopter to develop fatigue testing technologies, which could transform how military helicopters are managed with the potential to reduce maintenance costs and improve aircraft availability.
Minister for Defence Industry, Christopher Pyne, said the new technologies could have significant benefits for both military and civilian helicopter operators.
Nova Systems, Jack Thompson Engineering, Fortburn and Advanced VTOL were named by the minister as the Australian companies involved in the project.
“In a world first, defence scientists and engineers are developing a full-scale, structural fatigue test rig that can accurately replicate the loads and forces experienced by a helicopter in flight,” Minster Pyne said.
“While full-scale fatigue tests are routinely conducted for fixed-wing aircraft, the complex, high-frequency flight loading of helicopters has been particularly challenging to replicate in the laboratory.
“Instead, helicopters are certified using conservative test methods that do not always fully predict the possibility of fleet damage.”
Minister Pyne said the department of defence was investing $5 million over the next five years in this project and working in collaboration with industry and the US Navy.
“This very promising technology could not have happened without close collaboration between our defence scientists and local industry,” he said.
“The trial program, including the building of the innovative test rig and test demonstration, commenced late last year and will continue until 2022.
“The program aims not only to develop the capability to fully test and validate helicopter structures, but also to deliver innovations that may be applied to other areas such as the fatigue testing of fixed-wing aircraft.
“If successful, the technology could represent a considerable commercial opportunity for defence industry in Australia.”
The US Navy has supplied one of their aircraft for the research, and has expressed an interest in implementing full-scale fatigue testing of their entire fleet of Romeo Seahawk helicopters.