MERC Researching Sustainment of Aging Fleet of USAF Special Operations Forces Helicopters

Mercer Engineering Research Center (MERC) is performing research under the terms of a $12 million contract with the United States Air Force (USAF) to support sustainment of an aging fleet of Special Operations Forces helicopters.

“MERC has been a long-time provider of engineering research and support to Special Operations Forces helicopters, having provided rotary wing engineering expertise to the USAF for more than a decade,” said Dr. Dave Barwick, executive director of MERC. “MERC was determined by the USAF to be uniquely qualified to provide the research to support its extensive requirements.”

MERC has previously developed detailed and intricate structural models of the H-1 and H-60 helicopters, as well as complex algorithms based on structural dynamics and aerodynamics of the aerospace system. These highly accurate algorithms, developed in-house by Ph.D.-level engineers and scientists, are used to predict the fatigue and service life of the helicopters and determine the requisite and optimal maintenance actions required to safely sustain the fleet and increase aircraft availability. These methods have been uniquely constructed for the express purposes of integrating load, spectra, structural responses and crack growth in a manner not existent elsewhere.

The current research of the TH-1H, UH-1N and HH-60G helicopters involves performing investigation of life predictions and failure analyses that are of significant concern because of long-term aircraft use, especially due to the vibratory nature of these aircraft. MERC will continue its engineering research in updating existing MERC-developed rotary wing aging aircraft models to reflect current configuration and loadings. MERC will also identify specific high fatigue areas, perform life predictions on the aging aircraft and develop solutions to extend and maintain the airframe’s economically viable life as the aircraft continues to age.

“These solutions are predicted to result in tens of millions of dollars of cost savings to the USAF, based on the resultant cost savings from previous solutions developed by MERC for similar purposes,” said Dr. Barwick.

Approximately 60 MERC engineers and scientists, as well as a few additional external consultants, will perform the research, with an anticipated completion date of Sept. 19, 2014.