How the U.S. Army Are Learning to Deal with Composites

The biggest challenge with these new materials is developing an Army capability in advanced composites and allowing the maintainers to repair structures made of composite materials such as carbon fibre, fibreglass, and aramid (Kevlar).

This is where the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Centre (AMRDEC) comes in through its Prototype Integration Facility or PIF for short.

Having advanced composites in primary flight structure is totally new to the Army, and Soldiers did not have the appropriate skills to repair these components, the Prototype Integration Facility was able to design and validate the repair process, and then train the Soldiers to be able to accomplish those repairs.

The repair course offers an overview of the materials, processes, and tools used to repair advanced composites. Although the class is based on the published procedures for the UH–60M helicopter’s horizontal stabilator, the processes taught to the Soldiers are applicable across all aviation platforms.

Earl Thomas, lead composite instructor, instructs National Guard Soldiers on inspecting a composite repair.
Earl Thomas, lead composite instructor, instructs National Guard Soldiers on inspecting a composite repair.

Over the past two and a half years, the PIF has trained more than 250 Soldiers and civilians in advanced composite repair processes and other composite fundamentals. The PIF offers three different courses and is composed of classroom lectures and practical hands-on exercises: Advanced Composite Repair (40 hours), Technical Inspection of Advanced Composite Repairs (24 hours) and Fundamentals of Composites (40 hours).

Throughout 2014, the PIF used advanced composites to save more than $40 million for the Utility Helicopters Project Management Office alone. In February 2014, the PIF was awarded the Army Aviation Association of America Material Readiness Award for accelerating the Army’s widespread adoption of composites and enabling the warfighter to support those composites.

The Prototype Integration Facility continues to have a direct and profound effect on Army aviation and its experience and partnerships make it the hub of Army aviation activities for advanced composites