April 26, 2018 / 12:24 AM / a year ago

Big data aids Sikorsky in improving helicopter maintenance

BERLIN (Reuters) - Big data analytics are helping Lockheed Martin Corp’s (LMT.N) helicopter unit improve the maintenance of its aircraft and cut costs by identifying patterns that might have otherwise gone unnoticed, Sikorsky President Dan Schultz said on Wednesday.

A Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion helicopter is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

For instance, the company redesigned a wrench after a data-driven analysis of repairs on the CH-53E heavy-lift helicopter revealed that mechanics were damaging the swash plate part of the rotor if they slipped while tightening bolts.

“We went to the assistant secretary of the Navy and showed him a wrench. We said, ‘This is saving you $800,000 (£573,932) a year,’” Schultz, a former Marine Corps helicopter pilot, told Reuters in an interview at the ILA Berlin Air Show.

“We’re using health and monitoring data, coupled with analysis with big data, to make improvements and keep parts on the airplane longer,” he said.

Lockheed was also beginning to use the same data-crunching algorithms to study data from its F-35 stealth fighter jet, he said.

Sikorsky’s new CH-53K King Stallion made its international flying debut at the air show on Wednesday, undeterred by a sudden rainstorm, and will perform a more ambitious flying programme on Thursday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel got a chance to see both helicopters on the tarmac during a visit to open the air show on Wednesday, but the rain prevented her from clambering around inside the planes as initially planned.

Sikorsky said it leased the aircraft backed from the U.S. Marine Corps, shipped it to Germany in a C-17 transport plane, and has been flying it successfully for nearly a month.

The CH-53K will compete against Boeing Co’s smaller (BA.N) twin-rotor CH-47 Chinook helicopter in a German military competition valued at around 4 billion euros.

Both companies have assembled industrial teams in Germany to build parts and service the planes if they win the bids.

The defence ministry expects to release a formal request for proposals in the second half of 2018, with a contract award due in mid-2020, for deliveries to start in 2023.

Schultz said Sikorsky’s approach to building helicopters, including building all its own transmissions, coupled with data analytics and other tools, had helped it boost readiness rates to well above 90 percent, a key selling point.

He said Sikorsky also remained in discussions with Israel, which is also considering buying the CH-53K helicopter for its military.

Nathalie Previte, Sikorsky vice president for strategy and business development, said a third country had requested a classified briefing on the helicopter from the U.S. government, but declined to identify it.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal

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