Gentalmen 'Start your Helios'

Army Adopts NASCAR Technology for Helicopters

By Stefanie A. Gardin
Army News Service
January 11, 2005

WASHINGTON – NASCAR windshield tear-offs will soon provide Army helicopters an extra layer of protection from sand, rocks and debris thanks to two National Guard Soldiers.

Sgt. 1st Class Paul Kagi and Sgt. Michael Mullen, Virginia Army Guard helicopter mechanics, submitted the idea to use windshield tear-offs to the Army Suggestion Program after discussing the idea at a Christmas party five years ago.

Their unit went to the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., with brand new helicopters. However, when they came back, they had to replace about 80 percent of the windshields due to sand damage.

“Sand will eat up a glass window. It gets so pitted you can’t even see out of it,” said Kagi, “that’s where Sgt. Mullen got the idea. He said, hey, they put tear-offs on racecars at Daytona and Texas for that very reason—to protect them from sand and debris.”

Kagi did some homework, researching tangible cost savings for the tear-offs, and the idea was submitted through the Army Suggestion Program channels for evaluation. Eventually, the aviation team at the Aviation and Missile Research Development & Engineering Center, Redstone Arsenal, Ala., together with the Defense Logistics Agency, picked up the idea and funded all the testing.

“In order to put anything on a helicopter, we have to do a lot of testing on it because if a helicopter doesn’t work, it crashes—and that’s bad news,” said Doug Felker, Reliability, Availability and Maintainability team leader at AMRDEC.

Felker and team put the windshield tear-offs through a series of environmental testing and visibility testing, with the naked eye and night vision goggles. They also flight-tested the tear-offs on an aircraft in California in a brownout condition, where the aircraft purposely flies into a dust and sand environment, said Ken Bowie, RAM team member.

“The material has met or exceeded our expectations on all the tests at this point,” said Bowie, “that is how we got our airworthiness release.”

An Army airworthiness release is similar to its civilian counterpart, FAA approval. Any aircraft modifications must have this release before going into effect. So far, the RAM team has received approval for a single-layer tear-off sheet for the Black Hawk only, but it is working to get approval for the other aviation platforms: the Kiowa, Apache and Chinook, as well.

“Tear-offs are simple solutions to a tactical problem,” said Bowie. “The problem is operating in a sandy, dusty environment.”

The tear-offs are clear pieces of Mylar seven millimeters thick that are molded to the shape of the windshield. Mylar has all of the optical qualities of regular glass, and even stands up to abrasions better than glass because it has more give to it.

The point of the tear-off is that if there are incidences where a windshield gets pitted or dinged up, the damage is on the Mylar, not the windshield. Instead of replacing the windshield, which is timely and costly, the Mylar can be torn off, and the aircraft can move on.

“We want the Mylar to fail,” said Felker. “As long as the Mylar receives all of the damage, the windshield’s life is prolonged. Right now there is an acute shortage of windshields, and those windshields aren’t cheap.”

Current predictions estimate the life of one tear-off to be about six months. As long as the tear-off is not hit by something it won’t handle, like bullets, and a fresh piece of Mylar is kept on it, the windshield should last forever, said Bowie.

“Tear-offs will save the Army repair, increase readiness, and save a great deal of money in both material and maintenance costs,” said Felker.

Other contributors to the funding, research and fielding of the tear-offs have been the Defense Logistics Agency, Richmond, Va., the Black Hawk Project Office, Huntsville, Ala., and the Aviation Applied Technology Directorate, Fort Eustis, Va. Installation of the tear-offs on Black Hawks in Iraq and Kuwait is slated to start the first or second week in February.

“The goal is to improve things for our peers,” said Kagi. “With helicopters, we operate and fight battles all over the world, and if we can get the word out or suggest something that is for the good of Army Aviation, then that is what we want to do.”

Cash awards are paid for ideas adopted that were submitted through the Army Suggestion Program. The amount is based on tangible cost savings with a maximum award of $25,000.

(Next we'll have sponsers)


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