Commentary: "Transforming Through Synergy"

Transforming Through Synergy
By Mike Hirschberg, Executive Director

From Vertiflite, May-June 2015

Hirschberg at AHS UAS Meeting, January 2015The theme for AHS International’s 71st Annual Forum and Technology Display is “Transforming Vertical Flight Technology.” Selected more than a year ago in recognition of the significant shifts in technology, the industrial base, military development plans and the civil marketplace, we couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate theme. This past year has seen unprecedented changes in all these areas and more – from emerging technologies like metallic additive manufacturing for production parts to contract awards for high-speed rotorcraft demonstrators on both sides of the Atlantic, and from the crash in oil prices to an apparent plan to spin off Sikorsky Aircraft.

All of these transformative forces – internal and external – raise the urgency for the vertical flight community to produce ever more capable aircraft at ever more efficient costs. The best way to do this is to exploit the natural synergies in the technical community.

Capability and Affordability

Customers worldwide are demanding increased performance at lower cost. This is now the new normal.

After well over a decade of conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, rotorcraft have proven themselves an indispensible asset, but with significant capability gaps in the areas of performance, autonomy/collaboration, survivability and sustainability. To meet future US needs in the 21st Century and the demands of the “Pivot to the Pacific” strategy, the US military is divesting itself of older aircraft and integrating new models, while setting out on an unprecedentedly ambitious plan to develop a family of Future Vertical Lift aircraft – from small unmanned rotorcraft and armed aerial scouts, to medium, heavy and possibly even ultra-heavy transports – that could be flying into the next century. In addition to next-generation performance, significant reductions in operating, sustainment and life cycle costs are necessary for the program to be successful.

To meet the demands of its citizens, the European Union countries initiated Clean Sky 2 to drive environmental improvements, increase transport efficiency, and create jobs and growth for Europe. Reduced environmental impacts – emissions, fuel consumption, noise, etc. – are of critical importance. As a result, the EU gave the go-ahead last year to begin building high-speed civil rotorcraft demonstrators to validate challenging performance and efficiency goals.

From small to large helicopters now in or entering the market, the demand is the same: more capability and greater affordability. Airbus Helicopters, AgustaWestland and Bell have each developed a new “super medium class” helicopter – to provide the capability of a larger helicopter with the operational affordability of a medium class. Bell is reentering the light single market with the Jet Ranger X, competing against the established Robinson, resurgent companies like MD Helicopters and Enstrom, and newcomers Guimbal, Marenco and Composite Helicopters. China, India, Korea and Turkey are also all developing light civil helicopters. Each company is promoting their blend of technology, capability and affordability.

Exploiting Synergies

Synergy is defined as “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.” AHS is in a unique position to provide the conduit that connects the worldwide community and provides opportunity for synergy among different organizations. Participation in AHS facilitates a deeper understanding of the global technology base and building relationships with the key players in vertical flight.

The Society provides a robust infrastructure that plays an essential role in vertical flight by bringing together the most creative minds and visionaries of industry, academia and government with the world’s leading aerospace manufacturers and suppliers. AHS chapter meetings and conferences worldwide allow members from disparate organizations and experience levels to interact and find areas of mutual interest, as well as match needs with capabilities. Chapters get together in formal or informal venues for information exchange, bringing together local representatives from various organizations across industry, academia and government. In AHS specialists’ meetings, chapters and technical committees bring together subject matter experts from around the world to dialogue with others interested in learning and sharing their views and expertise. Nearly all of the work is done by AHS Member volunteers who want to work together to create opportunities for the betterment of the vertical flight community.

A recent example was at January’s 6th AHS International Specialists' Meeting On Unmanned Rotorcraft Systems near Phoenix, Arizona. A presentation by academia on transporting sling loads was commented upon by the US Marine who had let the first unmanned K-MAX cargo helicopter unit in Afghanistan. That was a synergistic “AHS Moment” – bringing together experts in theoretical and operational domains.

AHS has also been collaborating with other industry groups, AHS member companies, and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow the broader adoption of technology for safety improvements, as well as providing technical expertise on community noise considerations. Breaking free of the inertia of existing regulations and perspective requires the cooperation of all parties and the ability to take advantage of synergistic attributes of each organization.

As a final example, AHS has been active in countering current US government policies on travel that are discouraging and/or preventing government engineers, scientists, program managers and leaders from interacting with their counterparts in industry and academia. AHS recognizes the real danger that this curtails everyone’s ability to work together towards the advancement of vertical flight. If continued to an extreme, the strong collaborative working relationship that US government employees have with their peers throughout the industry will atrophy. AHS continues to work behind the scenes to prevent this dire scenario.

Opportunities for Collaboration

The AHS Annual Forum is one of the best opportunities to seek out and strengthen connections across companies, countries and disciplines – and find synergies through collaboration. Each year, vertical flight technologists from around the world gather together – students, faculty, scientists, engineers, aviators, managers, CEOs and others – to discuss the latest technology breakthroughs and theories, new products, trends and capabilities, and how fielded aircraft are performing in operations.

Held this year on May 5-7 in Virginia Beach, Forum 71 will feature more than 250 presentations from engineers, scientists, aviators, military officers, program managers, university faculty and students, and other innovators. Nearly as important as the presentations themselves are the interactions: questions and answers, side conversations, and meetings (planned and unplanned) between individuals from industry, government and academia from around the world.

In these times of transformational changes – in technology, industrial base, defense procurement, and the civil marketplace, to name a few – we urge the vertical flight community to take advantage of the opportunities that AHS International provides to find and exploit the natural synergies in the technical community to develop more capable and affordable rotorcraft in the 21st Century.

What do you think? Let us know!

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Posted February April 7, 2015