WASHINGTON – The first Victor model of the UH-60 Black Hawk supply helicopter, manufactured at Corpus Christi Army Depot, rolled off the production line last month ahead of a 2021 deployment, according to the U.S. Army Aviation Program Executive Officer.
The Victor model converts a Lima model Black Hawk from an analog cockpit to a new digital one. This replacement better matches the capabilities of the UH-60 Mike model, the newest variant of the helicopter. However, its success could serve as a stepping stone for the army’s future vertical backbone, allowing mission systems to blend seamlessly into the aircraft’s architecture.
The Army has partnered with Corpus Christi Army Depot, Texas to convert “L” models to new “V” models at the rate of 48 aircraft per year, which has been deemed too slow since production on the Service was 15 Years would take all 760 aircraft. The army has been looking for ways to speed this up.
In spring 2014, Redstone Defense Systems received an order from the army to take over the cockpit design from Northrop Grumman and to integrate the technology in prototypes of the V-model. Three prototypes spent over two years in the Prototype Integration Facility in Redstone to integrate.
The aircraft’s first flight was in January 2017. The Army passed the Model V through its first operational test and initial assessment (IOT & E) in September 2019.
“When we found out, we had a few things to fix, so we’re doing another drop of software to fix those issues,” said Brig. General Robert Barrie, the director of the aviation skills service, told Defense News in a pre-interview Association of the US Army Annual Conference.
In a report earlier this year, the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester said the aircraft had “encountered numerous software and communications issues that affected suitability throughout the IOT&E.”
Two of the planes also retained the old L-model wiring harness, which had scuff marks, the report said. “These older systems may have contributed to reliability test results,” he added.
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“There were some latency issues,” said Barrie. “In other words, things weren’t going as fast as we’d like them to be. So we try to make sure we fully understand these and address them. I am confident we will do this, but we will still have something to do there. “
The success with the Victor model is part of a larger push that brings home the modular, open system approach required for future vertical elevator technology, Barrie said.
“It’s absolutely necessary for no other reason than affordability,” he said. “But the reality is we have other goals: their adaptability, our ability to deliver on time and then improve competition over time, affordability through competition.”
In the case of the Black Hawk, the Chinook CH-47F cargo helicopter, and the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, “We need to go back to our OEM and then open up so we can make changes to the aircraft’s operational flight program and then make the changes collaboratively with changes that affect the entire aircraft system, ”said Barrie.
With the Victor model, “we will continue to develop the fleet as much as possible and, in the case of ATCOs, we will include them from the start. [it] is more of an open system approach, ”he said.
The Army admits that parts of the aircraft, especially the flight controls and critical safety items, will remain with the original equipment manufacturer “and indeed permanently,” said Barrie.
“We’re really trying to divide the aircraft architecturally, and anything that is a mission system, sensor, communications device, or weapons system could potentially be integrated through an open interface that would allow the government a lot more flexibility and adaptability in providing that capability “, he added.
The Victor model does that for an existing platform, he explained.
Another attempt to open the architecture on existing and future platforms is the Aviation Mission Common Server.
“From a hardware and software perspective, AMCS is essentially our first attempt: can we split the plane? Can we have the front end of the plane with the flight controls? Can we then use AMCS as the integration mechanism that we use to add sensors? “Said Barrie. “Can we get this into the cockpit without breaking the cockpit architecture software?”
The army still has to determine how the mission system architecture of the ATCO fleet is to be dealt with. “In other words, are we going to dictate that they will use AMCS? Are we going another way? And we’re still working on it, ”said Barried.
There’s “work on Victor,” he added. “It’s a tough nut to crack,” but “if we do it right, it will be of benefit to the army in the long run.”