MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. -- The U.S. Navy’s MH-60S Seahawk multi-mission helicopter is ready for a communications upgrade, and engineers with the H-60 Fleet Support Team at Naval Air Systems Command’s In-Service Support Center at Fleet Readiness Center East have developed an innovative solution to support that effort.
The fleet’s inventory of more than 200 MH-60S Block 3 aircraft is slated to receive new Full Motion Video (FMV) systems, which will expand the aircraft’s operational capabilities. A team of structural and avionics engineers with the H-60 FST at FRCE developed prototypes of the equipment that will secure the modification to the aircraft, including two 3D-printed antenna mounts developed in conjunction with the Additive Manufacturing team at NAVAIR headquarters in Patuxent River, Maryland.
While the third antenna mount and equipment rack will be manufactured through more traditional methods, the two remaining antennas provided the development team with an opportunity to think outside of the box and explore additive manufacturing options.
The unconventional production method also provided the quickest and most cost-effective path to mass production, Stokes explained, allowing the team to meet the tight deadlines delivered by the program office. The team did explore other options, including a traditional composite layup. Composite material is frequently used for fairings across naval aviation, including on the MH-60S; however, the lead time and cost to develop a mold and mass produce the antenna mounts using that method was deemed too time consuming and costly when compared the 3D printing.
The 3D-printed mounts, along with the rest of the FMV mounting package, are now in the early evaluation stages of production. Stokes said the team is currently conducting a preliminary fit check of all aspects of the FMV modification, structures and avionics, to ensure proper fit and procedures are in place.
The team will complete the fit check and will incorporate any necessary changes into the technical directive, installation data package and design drawings. The NAVAIR Additive Manufacturing team at Patuxent River will then create three more copies of each 3D-printed mount - using the technical data provided by the H-60 FST team - and send those parts to FRCE for finishing. Once those steps are complete, the mounts will move into the next phase of testing: validation on a fleet aircraft at the test squadron at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
Following validation, the team will conduct a verification of the technical directive on another fleet aircraft; any necessary changes and comments from the validation and verification processes will be incorporated into the technical directive, which will then be released to the fleet to be completed for all applicable aircraft. Validation and verification are standard aspects of any modification, Stokes explained, and must be completed before an airframe change - the type of technical directive the FMV system represents - can be released.