Maj. Gen. Todd Royar, the commander of the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, spoke to leaders in the aviation community at the Joseph P. Cribbins Training, Equipping and Sustainment Symposium Nov. 17.
The 2021 symposium was held Nov. 15-17 at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Hosted by the Army Aviation Association of America, the event provided a forum for aviation industry leaders to speak directly to aviation military leaders, as well as demonstrate new and emerging technology.
Royar spoke about the transition from Condition-Based Maintenance Plus to Prognostic and Predictive Maintenance, highlighting both the cost savings and life savings he personally witnessed during his career as an Army aviation officer.
Royar said in 2005, while he was the commander of the first squadron, 1st Infantry Division, his unit was the first unit to put health monitoring sensors on the Apache helicopter. The condition-based maintenance sensors measured vibration and Royar described them as “impressive.” However, later in his command they became more than impressive, they saved lives.
“We had a nose gear box that was about to fail and CBM+ identified it,” Royar said. “We took it apart and, sure enough, it probably would have failed within hours. I’m personally convinced that it saved two lives and it saved the aircraft, so I am a fan for life. It made a difference on that day.”
Royar said with the DoD transitioning from CBM+ to PPMx, he feels there is an opportunity to gain even more from the technology available, and he challenged the industry partners to go further. Specifically, he would like to move from managing individual component parts such as engines and transmissions by stock numbers and move toward managing them by serial numbers.
He said, “If you want to realize the true gains of PPMx, we must fundamentally change how we look at it. If we can do that, then we are no longer managing fleets — Blackhawks, Chinooks or whatever model or variation it is — we’re actually going to manage tail numbers. And that is how you will get the collective savings.”
Royar not only outlined his vision, he also provided a path to achieve it, fully acknowledging that it will take time and effort to get to the desired outcomes.
He discussed the current way of doing business, which entails replacing components on a time-based interval. Rather, Royar said he would like to see PPMx sensors detect and predict failure modes for each component.
“If we can get to the point where a sensor can identify the failure mode [of the component] prior to it happening with enough reliability, then we can replace fewer parts, keep them on longer and have less maintenance requirements for our Soldiers out there,” he said. “That’s my goal, that’s where I want to get to. That’s where I think we, as an aviation enterprise, need to get to.”
He then outlined four steps to move toward his vision. First he would like to define a common data standard for all health monitoring systems, regardless of the aircraft.
“You take your car to a shop today, the standards are read the same way, regardless of the manufacturer,” Royar said. “Why can’t we do that within the rotorcraft industry? It will take industry to help lead that way and I will make it my mission to bring everyone together to start that conversation.”
His other steps included being willing to periodically adjust the maintenance schedules in future systems based on the data standards, updating and standardizing data management systems and a willingness to experiment and change.
“If we want to get to a place where we are managing by serial number and tail number, we have to have the intellectual curiosity and willingness to say that, ‘it’s a good idea and it’s hard, but let’s get after it.’ If we don’t, then we’re going to keep the same system that we currently have today. We can change the paradigm,” Royar said. “We, as Army aviation, are above the best and that’s the Soldiers on the ground. They are why we exist and we can’t lose sight of that.”