Black Hawk up

A UH-60L Black Hawk takes off on a night mission.

Redstone managers use dashboards to track helicopter program

The Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., is using dashboards to help coordinate its Black Hawk helicopter modernization program.

The upgrade aims to extend the helicopter's range, add new armor, digitize the cockpit and achieve better fuel efficiency.

The improvements will also require increasing the Black Hawk's lift to carry new equipment, more personnel, and Humvees instead of Jeeps.

All this involves coordinating more than 1,200 aircraft through a multiphase process that involves more than 4,000 separate parts.

This program, which may require decades to complete, clearly requires meticulous supervision, and dashboards are a critical aspect.

Dan Holder, an electronics engineer in Redstone's aviation and missile research, development and engineering center, has the job of simulating the modernization process.

This includes creating models that take into account the many dependencies involved'the logistics of moving helicopters to the factory, coordinating parts and inventories, arranging work schedules'and the steps involved in each phase of the upgrade procedure.

Holder uses not one, but 15, dashboards, based on Witness simulation software from Lanner Group Inc. of Houston, to monitor the program. As a result, officials estimate, the program will achieve cost savings of about 30 percent.

For example, one dashboard is capable of showing any part on the helicopter in 3-D. Users can zoom to where the part fits and see what it looks like from any angle. This display is connected with information about inventory and alternate vendors for parts, if necessary.

The dashboard ties together information from a variety of sources and presents it in a format that users'engineers or managers'are able to readily understand.

In this way, dashboards can open a window into diverse data sources and show the interconnection of that data in a meaningful way. 'Most of this information existed already,' Holder said 'But the dashboard makes it visual.'

By simulating the assembly of parts in the Black Hawk, Holder and his team have found ways to simplify the work, save time and reduce costs.

Another dashboard shows a world map. On this map, the user can see where each Black Hawk is located, as well as where replacement parts are coming from. The display reveals information including the current condition of each aircraft and any items that need replacement, allowing users to track them.

Showmanship with a purpose

'It's important to design dashboards to impress, rather than to simply do the job,' Holder said. A little showmanship'such as special graphics or animation'can make the dashboard more interesting for users and encourage them to use it more.

Holder emphasized that planning a dashboard for simulation and modeling is vital. 'You must have a well-written and dynamic strategy,' he said.

The infrastructure must be capable of accessing all the necessary data sources, including some not yet considered, and delivering information in the right format to the dashboard.

The result is a valuable tool for keeping a long and complex program on track for success.

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