Defense Media Network

The Aviation Field Maintenance Directorate Improves Readiness, Safety, Availability, and Quality

Keep Em' Flying

Helicopter Challenges

The challenges are constant: It would be convenient for the Army’s hard-working maintainers if every needed helicopter part were equally available and easy to install. Those who work on the CH-47 Chinook – the aircraft that has proven so vital in the “hot and high” climes of Afghanistan – can confirm otherwise.

The Chinook deserves a special place in the annals of Army aviation. Its basic design is by far the Army’s oldest, dating to the YCH-1B version that made its first flight on Sept. 21, 1961, before the U.S. buildup in Vietnam began. Yet the Chinook remains in production today after many changes. The CH-47F model has a full-authority digital engine control (FADEC) AlliedSignal/Garrett T55-GA-714A engine rated at 4,085 maximum continuous shaft horsepower (shp). The wide variety of Chinook models serving in regular Army and special operations forces poses a challenge to maintainers.

As an Army public affairs release pointed out, rotor blades for the Chinook are in short supply, especially the aft rotor blades of the tandem twin. If the rotor blades of a damaged Chinook are in workable condition, mechanics remove them from the damaged aircraft and transfer them to one that is functioning. Even when a Chinook hasn’t actually crashed or made a hard landing, its rotor blades can suffer from heavy workloads, frequent usage, and environmental factors. Increased operational tempo has necessitated more efficient work on CH-47 rotor blades to sustain Soldiers’ needs in the field.

In some ways, the most challenging aircraft for AFMD’s Reset teams is the OH-58D(R) Kiowa Warrior, the armed scout with a mast-mounted sight that has been a familiar sight in every U.S. crisis since the early 1990s. An uprated 650 shp Allison T703-A-720 turbo shaft engine powers the OH-58D(R), which has a four-bladed main rotor, a new composite tail rotor, and an improved transmission – and has long been a candidate for retirement.

The Army once planned to replace the Kiowa Warrior with its ultra high-tech RH-66 Comanche, a project that was canceled after many years of research, development, and test flying. Later, the Army was sure it would retire its Kiowa Warriors and replace them with the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH), the ARH-70A Arapaho. When the Pentagon canceled the ARH on Oct. 16, 2008, the Kiowa Warrior suddenly became a candidate for Reset work. The OH-58D(R) fleet has been flown longer and harder, relative to what was once planned for it, than any other Army helicopter, and many of its components are among the oldest in the fleet.

Of course, AFMD’s Reset maintainers also work on the AH-64A Apache and AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters that have been under enormous stress during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The two-seat tandem attack helicopter has received a lot more wear and tear than designers once envisaged, and the Reset process is continuing to keep it flying.

Mission Statement

When he became the charter boss of AFMD, Evans followed U.S. military custom and drafted a “mission statement” and a “vision” for his directorate. The mission statement tells us that AFMD: “Conducts AVUM/AVIM pass back maintenance, limited depot repair, modification applications, and supports On Order (O/O) validated mission requirements.” (AVUM is aviation unit maintenance. AVIM is aviation intermediate maintenance.)

The vision is: “Execute an Army Aviation Deep Maintenance Program that improves materiel readiness, operational availability, and quality; enhances safety; reduces operational and support costs; and ensures Mission Design Series configuration control.”

During an era of change and innovation, the Aviation Field Maintenance Directorate is following that vision, executing its mission, and making life easier for Army maintainers and aviators.

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Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...