Tech Talk / By Mr. David B. Cripps: In last January’s edition of ArmyAviation magazine, Mr. Keith Darrow, the Director, Aviation Engineering Directorate (AED) and I reached out to industry members who were potential offerors for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) competitive prototype (CP) contract.
We encouraged industry to propose their preferred methods for assuring appropriate flight safety/airworthiness during the CP phase, and to collaborate with AED to jointly develop plans to achieve a safe CP flight test and demonstration program. I am pleased to report that the five FARA CP performers have done just that. AED’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) Division has assigned dedicated teams to each FARA CP performer, and together we have reviewed airworthiness requirements and crafted strategies for assuring airworthiness to be formally presented during the upcoming Initial Design and Risk Review (IDRR) for each performer. Two performers will soon be selected to convert their plans into flying prototypes on a very aggressive schedule. AED will continue to collaborate with each to enable the successful and safe flight tests and demonstrations prior to a subsequent down-select to a single company for engineering and manufacturing development in the FARA program of record.
AED is intent on introducing innovation into the Army’s airworthiness assurance processes, not just for FARA, but also for the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) and all other future aircraft developments. Our conventional methods for assuring flight safety were simply not designed for the highly complex and often non-deterministic behaviors of emerging technologies. As a result, applying conventional airworthiness approaches to emerging technology systems might well result in excessively lengthy and costly qualification and certification programs. We need to develop new approaches. This realization is in no way a condemnation of the airworthiness process as it has evolved to date. To the contrary, the robustness and effectiveness of the Army’s current airworthiness system remain significant contributors to the consistently low class A-C accident rates Army Aviation has experienced over recent years. But our nation’s current strategic situation necessitates transition of new technologies into fielded capabilities in timelines that are much more constrained than we have seen in generations. Our challenge is to continue achieving the same outcome of extremely safe aircraft systems but on a more accelerated schedule and without increased cost of certification.
Toward that end, AED has established a new senior position of Chief Airworthiness Engineer, which I am fortunate to initially hold. My charter is to seek innovation and shape AED’s future capability to meet the airworthiness demands of tomorrow and beyond. Adapting a taxonomy from John Garstka (A Conceptual Framework for Innovation in Capability Development, see https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a512355.pdf#page=34 ), my approach to this will focus on five areas.
- Concept innovation – examining new approaches to achieve necessary reliability levels of flight- and safety-critical functions, particularly focused on new and emerging technologies.
- People innovation – encouraging individual government airworthiness engineers to adopt new approaches for their roles.
- Organization innovation – addressing organizational structural change to address the highest priorities with the constrained workforce.
- Process innovation – redefined processes to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness.
- Technology innovation – making better use of supporting technologies to perform the airworthiness engineering functions.
In this endeavor, I will be reaching out to academia, industry, and governmental organizations to explore how other domains with requirements for extremely high reliabilities of critical functions are approaching similar challenges and then synthesizing how their approaches can be adapted to the airworthiness mission. If you have recommendations for how AED can approach airworthiness of the future, please forward them to
Mr. David B. Cripps is the chief airworthiness engineer for the Aviation Engineering Directorate, CCDC Aviation and Missile Center, Redstone Arsenal AL.