MERC Awarded Contract to Conduct Research on U.S. Air Force Helicopters


WARNER ROBINS, Ga. – The United States Air Force (USAF) recently announced it has awarded a $12 million contract to the Mercer Engineering Research Center (MERC) to support sustainment of the USAF's aging fleet of Special Operations Forces (SOF) helicopters.

“Robins Air Force Base has strategically planned the sustainment of the aging fleet of Special Operations Forces helicopters by recognizing that long-term engineering research is required to maintain the safety and performance of its fleet,” said Dr. Dave Barwick, executive director of MERC. “As part of its proactive acquisition strategy, it has contracted with MERC to perform this research, which supports the structural and mechanical integrity of the fleet.”

The contract, announced by the USAF on Sept. 20, calls for research of the TH-1H, UH-1N and HH-60G helicopters, which includes a “wide range of analyses, to include engineering research, and integration and technical support services to isolate and analyze potential deficiencies related to the United States Air Force rotary-wing weapons systems. The effort will focus on identifying and solving structural and mechanical integrity issues, especially issues associated with the increasing age of the aircraft, such as fatigue cracking, damage tolerance and corrosion.”

“MERC has been a long-time provider of engineering research and support to Special Operations Forces helicopters, having provided rotary wing engineering expertise to the USAF for more than a decade,” Dr. Barwick said. “MERC was determined by the USAF to be uniquely qualified to provide the research to support its extensive requirements.”

MERC has previously developed detailed and intricate structural models of the H-1 and H-60 helicopters, as well as complex algorithms based on structural dynamics and aerodynamics of the aerospace system. These highly accurate algorithms, developed in-house by Ph.D.-level engineers and scientists, are used to predict the fatigue and service life of the helicopters and determine the requisite and optimal maintenance actions required to safely sustain the fleet and increase aircraft availability. These methods have been uniquely constructed for the express purposes of integrating load, spectra, structural responses and crack growth in a manner not existent elsewhere. 

As part of the recently announced effort, MERC will perform investigation of life predictions and failure analyses that are of significant concern because of long-term aircraft use, especially due to the vibratory nature of these aircraft. This will include consideration of the effects of new structures that have been added to the aircraft due to modifications and upgrades, investigation of aircraft usage over the fleet's service life, and comparison of this modified usage to the usage defined in the original design of the aircraft. MERC will continue its engineering research in updating existing MERC-developed rotary wing aging aircraft models to reflect current configuration and loadings. MERC will also identify specific high fatigue areas, perform life predictions on the aging aircraft and develop solutions to extend and maintain the airframe's economically viable life as the aircraft continues to age.

“These solutions are predicted to result in tens of millions of dollars of cost savings to the USAF, based on the resultant cost savings from previous solutions developed by MERC for similar purposes,” said Dr. Barwick.

The contract is a sole source acquisition in the amount of $12,380,083. Approximately 60 MERC engineers and scientists, as well as a few additional external consultants, are expected to perform the research, with an anticipated completion date of Sept. 19, 2014.

About Mercer University

Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University enrolls more than 8,300 students in 12 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing, health professions, and continuing and professional studies – on campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah – and four regional academic centers across the state. The Mercer Health Sciences Center, launched July 1, 2012, includes the University's medical, nursing, health sciences and pharmacy schools. Mercer is affiliated with four teaching hospitals – Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, and The Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus. The University also has educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. It operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins. Mercer is the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program.

Kyle Sears
Kyle is the director of media relations at Mercer. In addition to being the primary media contact for most academic and administrative units of the university, he coordinates hometown and university news releases and serves as editor of the News@Mercer e-newsletter and Reach magazine.​