What Has Science and Technology Done for Helicopters?

Recently, Commander JHC asked ‘What has Science and Technology done for Helicopters?’ here’s the answer.

The bottom line is that no helicopter would fly without science and technology, this is delivered by partnerships including the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), UK industry and academia. This support to UK Helicopters can be broken down into three strands, Technology, Survivability and Analysis, here are some examples.

You might assume that the Chinook digital automatic flight control system had been designed by Boeing to a wholly US requirement, you would be wrong. The science and technology programme has been working off and on to understand degraded visual environments for decades. Research on helicopter handling throughout the late 1980s and 1990s by Dstl’s predecessors, working closely with US and Canadian counterparts led to the first new rotorcraft handling specification since the 1960s. This specification was taken up by the US army and was used to design the Chinook digital automatic flight control system that will be used in the Chinook Mk6, and will provide a stable but agile platform with low pilot workload, all thanks to science and technology. That same understanding has also been exploited in the development of three dimensional ‘conformal symbology’ helmet displays, to allow easier navigation and control.

Missile warning systems such as the AAR 57 do not just appear on helicopters, MoD decision makers need evidence to justify the expense of such systems. Survivability scientists often deploy to theatre and conduct trials and experiments whilst working with operational aircraft and crews, along with industry and allies. The evidence gathered has been used to justify a number of survivability Urgent Operational Requirement upgrades to helicopters, including balancing the pros and cons of different mitigation options.

MoD often uses analysis to build the case for major decisions, recently the Dstl team have conducted analysis to support the Merlin Mk3/3a Life Sustainment Programme. The analysis investigated the options, and ran models to test the capability different numbers of platforms could deliver and linked this to the MoD’s planning scenarios. The analysis will be used by MoD as part of its business case. Other types of analysis include looking at availability drivers and options to improve it, and the trade-off between head and face protection and headborne mass.

Aside from science and technology knowledge being vital to enable helicopters to even exist, and certainly fly, science and technology has helped, and continues to help, MoD make decisions about both urgent operational requirements and longer term capability. Science and technology is not just for Christmas, it is for life!

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