The United States wants to create a digital twin of the Apache helicopter

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For nearly forty years, thehelicopter american fighter AH-64 Apache participated in many conflicts. Fast, loaded with weapons and sensorsvery manoeuvrable, theaircraft remains the most produced attack helicopter in the world. It is to improve the maintenance of this aging helicopter that the American army decided to create the digital twin.

A full digitization of every single part is currently underway. In Kansas, it’s the staff of theNational Aeronautical Research Institute (National Institute for Aviation Research or Niar) from Wichita City University who was commissioned for this project. The institute will work there for at least three years to digitize in 3D the 5,000 to 6,000 parts of the “delta” variant of the AH-64 Apache. This 3D scanning will be carried out using a device called Hexagon Arm. The US Army has a fleet of 800 models of this AH-64 version of the attack helicopter.

Dispose of this digital twin in high definition will, for example, make it possible to precisely assess the stresses exerted during flights and certain maneuvers on certain parts of the aircraft. To make them more durable, the parts in question can be digitally improved and tested on the digital twin. This method will make it possible to optimize maintenance operations on this aging fleet of helicopters.

The Niar recovered an airframe from a crashed AH-64D Apache to begin scanning.  The American army also provides him with the missing parts in order to scan them.  © National Institute for Aviation Research

Between 5,000 to 6,000 parts to digitize

This work of Titan requires the complete dismantling of a helicopter piece by piece, to clean each element and to digitize them. Then, it is necessary to digitally assemble this multitude of parts to rebuild the cell. To assess the constraints on the structure of the cell and validate the digital modelthe Niar team will also have to use a second helicopter by making it carry out maneuvers to “stress” the structure and by collecting data on the propagation of loads through it.

Why not use the detailed parts drawings at Boeing to make this digital twin? Quite simply because, for this model which was put into service in 1990, the aircraft manufacturer’s plans do not correspond to current standards. This method has also been tested with negative feedback, since the creation of the twin required too much improvement work.

The Apache is therefore not the first device to be digitized. This is also the case of the helicopter black hawk which is about to be completed. Other aircraft being digitized also include a B-1 bomber and a fighter jet F-16. Other projects are underway but they remain under the seal of defense secrecy.

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