- 12 Nov 2020
- Patrick Ryan
- Multi-Mission Aircraft
Have you ever thought about how specialized equipment and systems are integrated into Multi-Mission Aircraft. Patrick Ryan walks you through the ‘Turn-Key’ world of what makes a GA or Transport aircraft a Multi-Mission Aircraft.
How do multi-mission kit and systems find their way on-board an aircraft to make it mission capable? Following, we'll concentrate on what aircraft modifications and alterations are, and the ‘Nuts & Bolts’ of converting a basic airframe into an Aerial Work capable platform...
From a broad view, aircraft integration, alteration, and modifications change a baseline aircraft's physical characteristics. It is accomplished by changing the original aircraft production specifications by altering items already integrated or incorporating new components/capabilities to an established platform.
In Particular, modifications to an aircraft come in two forms: those that add new equipment or features to the aircraft (referred to as alterations or modifications) and those accomplished to re-establish the aircraft's original strength and integrity of damaged areas (referred to as repairs).
For this article, we'll focus on the first form (integration, alterations and modifications) regarding who modifies these aircraft, the types of technical disciplines required to make it happen, and the standard types of modifications you'll see performed on Multi-Mission aircraft.
Who modifies and integrates Multi-Mission aircraft?
In the world of aviation and aerospace, there are ‘Makers’, and then there are ‘Modifiers’, or sometimes they're ‘Both’. In general, the ‘Makers’ are those who design and manufacture the original aircraft or specialised system and component, i.e., referred to as Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) or Original Design Manufacturer (ODM). An illustration of these types of Multi- Mission OEMs and ODMs and their products are:
The ‘Modifiers’ are those organizations or companies that modify, alter, or integrate aircraft into special-purpose platforms. These firms are usually certified Maintenance and Repair Organisations (MRO), Design Organisations, or Production Organisations with a business model of providing ‘Turn-Key’ multi-mission modification solutions. For instance, converting a DC-10 in to an Aerial Firefighting EWater BomberD, outfitting an Airbus EC-135 into a Medevac platform, etc.
The type of Modifiers ranges from Tier-1 large corporations to Tier-3 small firms. As an example, here are a few of the companies that focus on providing ‘Turn-Key’ Multi-Mission aircraft solutions:
What is the ‘Nuts & Bolts’ of aircraft integration & modification?
Looking under the cowling of the Aerial Work Multi-Mission aircraft integration and modification sector, the ‘Nuts & Bolts’ or functions of physically altering or modifying an aircraft consist of several technical disciplines.
The overall or standard services and efforts Modifiers provide range from defining requirements to troubleshooting already fielded Multi-Mission technical aircraft systems. However, the specific or compartmentalized functions or services modifiers provide are:
Program Management: This function or service consists of conducting analysis, managing the development of requirements, tracking milestones, and overseeing an aircraft's modification life cycle progression. This effort could include everything from determining the design specification, logistics, document development, and supporting the required work certification.
Engineering: Engineering involves structural, avionic, and system engineering at every stage of the integration process.
Specifically, engineers, technologists, designers/drafts-persons, and technical specialists are engaged with specifying, modeling, assembling, testing, and certifying all aspects of an aircraft modification from a design perspective.
Manufacturing – Fabrication: Because some multi-mission requirements are unique, some modifications and alterations require a One-Off or distinctive component or part made from scratch, i.e., based on original designs or reversed engineered.
The manufacturing or fabrication function or service consists of converting raw material into a finished product like a composite Radar dome (manufacturing) or combining typically standardized parts by bending, drilling, and connecting into a completed unit like a special utility cargo hatch or remote-sensor equipment rack (fabrication).
Installation: Once the planning, engineering, and parts are ready, installing everything involves adapting or making ready to use the specialized multi-mission component. The process could be as easy as plugging in a part (‘Plug & Play’) to significantly modifying or altering the original aircraft interior and exterior design and function.
Flight Testing: When everything is complete, it's time to see if the installation and modification work. Flight testing is at the core of what Modifiers must do to validate a modified aircraft's operation and performance and evaluate new and modified aircraft systems' functionality during flight. This event allows identifying and fixing any design problems, plus verifying and documenting the vehicle capabilities for airworthiness certification and customer acceptance.
Other ‘Nuts & Bolts’: In addition to program management, engineering, manufacturing-fabrication, installation, and flight testing, there are other notable services or functions Modifiers might provide:
What are the different types of Multi-Mission Aircraft Integration & Modifications?
When it comes to types of aircraft integration, alteration, and modification efforts, the answer is — almost anything that you want to add, change, or integrate into an aircraft that is airworthy at the end of the process.
However, regarding Aerial Work aviation and Multi-Mission aircraft, there are common types of integration and modification efforts regularly accomplished to change a GA or Transport aircraft into a Multi-Mission platform.
In general, the kinds of integration and modification projects can range from integrating high-end specialized multi-million dollar Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (ISR) systems, Medevac equipment to a simple, inexpensive Aerial Advertisement banner towing hook. However, the typical type of work Modifiers are asked to accomplish in the Multi-Mission aircraft sector are:
Without a doubt, the Aerial Work aviation sector could not do its job if it were not for the ‘Makers’ and 'Modifiers' of the aviation world. Because 90% of all aircraft are not built explicitly for every type of Multi- Mission operation, the Modifiers of the world are critical in turning a GA or transport (and sometimes an old warbird) aircraft into a viable, effective, and safe platform.
Because Aerial Work aviation has a critical role in both aviation and society, the current and future need to modify, upgrade, and maintain Multi-Mission aircraft will continue. Even in COVID-19, many firms have full work-order books and forecast many more projects will come.
Again, a Multi-Mission aircraft is not special because of what systems and components it flies with, but more importantly, how they are technically integrated, certified, and maintained to support their specific Aerial Work mission.
Next time you observe a Police helicopter, Aerial Fire Fighting ‘Water Bomber’, or even an Aerial Mapping drone, think of those companies, engineers, and technicians who have ‘The Right Stuff’ to turn a basic aircraft into a workhorse for both the aviation sector and humanity to benefit.
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