Helicopter Usage Monitoring Systems

Even small amounts of ice accretion can cause major problems.

By Glenn Connor
ATP. Cessna 425
President, Discover Technology Intl

Advanced helicopter monitoring systems now utilize technology to provide continuous access to critical data such as the Honeywell Aspire 200 with satcom high speed data connectivity.

The development of Helicopter Usage Monitoring Systems (HUMS) is passing a significant technical and business milestone. Helo health is good business, and there's money to be made by all parties involved. For the owner operator, the value of the investment can be measured, schedules can be maintained and work continued. And for the avionics supplier and OEM, the additional value of helo health and maintenance is a key market discriminator as it sells helicopters and systems.

At Textron, HUMS is an item on the purchase menu these days, and you can select the level of service you want to buy. Much like any modern consumer product, car, or helicopter, it is now the expectation by this generation of owner/operators that the equipment can actually be maintained at peak efficiency. HUMS is a bottom line cost control tool, and not a shiny toy for the maintenance department.

History of HUMS

HUMS was borne out of a need to anticipate the inevitable failure of critical helicopter components. The increase in payload, power and torque accelerated the service life of parts thought to be longer in the overhaul or replacement cycle, sometimes with dire consequences. So even elementary monitoring of transmissions has resulted in improved safety and reliability.

Today the technology of instrumentation and data reporting for health usage monitoring has even greater value with the increasing complexity of helicopter components. HUMS can reduce or stop unobserved machine wear.

Back in the early 1990s, an FAA study made some compelling observations and predictions about the potential future of helicopter maintenance. The study pointed out coming technological advancements that would take components from analog to designs incorporating processors which would become integrated within engine controls, transmissions and auxiliary devices. Today, rather than be an afterthought, HUMS can become part of the core design, providing access to critical functions.

Going digital

Going from paper reporting to digital information, albeit limited in nature, was the 1st evolution in the management of HUMS data. Studies and supporting developments around the world dove into the development of products and means to transmit the data. This led to the next stage of designing computer software that could identify precursors to failures within this data by correlating times and conditions.

The next trick was learning how much buffer was permitted at the edge of use or component failure, something that only large amounts of data could provide in terms of real use and wear. But gathering digital data from a whirling machine of gears required development as well. The real value was on the whole picture of the aircraft, requiring sensors in the key areas of the helicopter. The revolution started for real when OEMs began developing instruments for collecting data, providing services for data analysis, and considering HUMS a key part of their offer.

In the early stages, the leading-edge Howell Instruments Engine Performances Assurance Monitoring, the Sikorsky HELIX, Plessy's AIMS, and Bell's EADS and vibration analysis were among the initial HUMS technology. The FAA's 1992 study on HUMS also forecast things called integrated diagnostics, artificial intelligence and more. What was unknown at the time of the FAA study was the coming of the new digital economy, where the demand for data would be driven by consumers. And the access to global data services provided another key ingredient for the growth of HUMS.

Aircraft health monitoring

OEMs and avionics suppliers are expanding the technology and products for HUMs instrumentation and monitoring with high speed data connectivity to provide predictable maintenance.

Today helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and even the car we drive have moved the health monitoring service and business to a customer option to be selected. It's a level of service, communications systems, and network that deliver the data, as well as the capability to analyze your machine's health. The bottom line value is, of course, that it tells you to fix something, replace something, or "you're fine, keep right on going."

What is striking about the latest developments at Helicopter Association International (HAI) Expo 2018 in health and performance monitoring technology is that it now telescopes into everyone's personal electronic devices (PEDs). Consider at the consumer level how a standard feature in everyone's cellphone is how much battery power you have left, and the device prompts when you need to update your software to assure better performance and security.

The technology is designed for both technical and business reasons, so it keeps you using the phone, and keeps making money–needed knowledge that all the users readily accept.

Now the variety of HUMS PED applications is growing rapidly, moving HUMS to a 24-hour service on mobile phones and tablets, allowing pilots, owners and operators to monitor their fleets. The provision of HUMS service by OEMs, and the ability to choose mobile apps is also changing the buying habits of users and providers, leading to independent services that are moving the end results to include all the departments of a flying organization. The connections of HUMS technology and services not only include maintenance departments, but the front office and CFOs, as well as line pilots.

HUMS can crunch the data

Another important new value being offered by some of the new HUMS services is to crunch the data and provide critical assessments. In some cases this option could reduce the need for manpower, allowing more focus on the mission.

One of the growing issues with the new HUMS capability, which now includes a new generation of communications systems, is that they also produce a digital avalanche of information. However, industry is providing new services designed at the outset to swim through the mountains of data and provide answers–not add to the overhead expense of people.

The burden of how to set up a server or a cloud storage or other necessity when it comes to critical data is actually part of these new services all handled by the providers. So, the associated fields of technology, cloud data management, high speed communications and secure portals, are all in the same bill along with the answers you need to keep flying.

The costs of OEM and MRO turnkey services is another expense, but the value of these services are reasonable and priced for the bigger picture–to keep you flying with a supply of parts and services.


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