The UH-72 Lakota is a twin-engine helicopter with a single, four-bladed main rotor. Built by Airbus Helicopters Inc., a division of Airbus Group Inc., the UH-72 performs logistics and support missions within the U.S. for homeland security, disaster response missions and medical evacuations.
It’s a big machine. In addition to one or two pilots, it can carry nine people or two stretchers and a medical crew. It’s more than 11 feet tall and 42 feet long. The main rotors stretch 36 feet in diameter.
Assembling and maintaining the helicopter requires equipment that’s a little more sophisticated than a step ladder. That’s the province of Safe Structure Designs LLC. Based in Las Vegas, the ISO 9001:2015 certified company designs and manufactures custom ergonomic work platforms and material handling equipment for a variety of industries, including aerospace, marine, railroad and heavy equipment.
Recently, the company was hired by the Army National Guard in Las Cruces, NM, to manufacture custom maintenance equipment for its fleet of UH-72 helicopters. The Guard wanted the equipment to address several problems. First, there was limited hangar space to store parts during heavy maintenance of the aircraft, and there was no central location to keep parts during repairs. Second, aircraft parts were often damaged because they were lying on the ground during maintenance. Third, when the rotor blades were removed, there was no place to store them, so there was a much higher chance of them being damaged during maintenance. Lastly, organization was an issue. Parts cages needed to be specified and assigned to each aircraft to ensure that the correct parts stayed with each aircraft.
With feedback from Guard personnel, engineers at Safe Structure designed and built a full line of custom maintenance support equipment for the helicopters. The equipment included ergonomic maintenance stands, cowling racks and blade racks. The maintenance stands give technicians safe access to the helicopters’ hydraulics, avionics, engines, transmission, main rotor, exhaust, tail boom and tail rotor. The stands have extended and contoured decks to allow multiple mechanics to work in separate areas of the aircraft at the same time.
“Safe Structure’s chief designer worked alongside our mechanics to ensure they were designing maintenance stands that genuinely work for our team and with the aircraft,” recalls Master Sergeant Paul Herrea Jr., aviation maintenance supervisor for the New Mexico Army National Guard. “The maintenance stands were delivered exactly as we expected and are used in our hangar daily. This equipment exceeded our expectations. The quality of the fabrication is impeccable, and they delivered the products on schedule. We highly recommend Safe Structure Designs.”
Helping The Coast Guard
Safe Structure completed a similar project for the U.S. Coast Guard’s fleet of Sikorsky MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters in Clearwater, FL. The Jayhawk is a twin-engine, medium-range helicopter designed for search and rescue, law enforcement and marine environmental protection missions. At 65 feet long and 17 feet tall, with a wingspan of 53 feet, the Jayhawk is much larger than the UH-72.
Like the New Mexico Army National Guard, the Coast Guard was experiencing space issues at its maintenance facility. With limited hangar space, parts storage was a problem during heavy maintenance, which meant that aircraft parts were often damaged while lying on the ground.
Safe Structure engineers worked alongside the USCG maintenance crews to evaluate their existing space and equipment. Then, Safe Structure engineers designed and built a single, ergonomic storage system that combines racks for parts, cowling, drive shaft and blades in one unit. Safe Structure engineers also redesigned the USCG’s work tables to have more durability with less cost.
“The quality of the finished equipment, when coupled with Safe’s willingness to build exactly what is requested, has resulted in one of the best, dollar-for-dollar, maintenance investments a company could make,” says James Valky, an aviation mechanic with the USCG.
Stands Keep Medical Helicopters Flying
Based in Denton, TX, Med-Trans Corp. provides emergency medical air and ground transport services for hospital and governmental agencies nationwide. The company’s fleet includes both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
Recently, the company asked Safe Structures to design and build new stands for helicopter engine maintenance. The existing stands were so inefficient and nonergonomic that mechanics needed twice as much time as necessary to complete certain tasks.
Despite a limited budget and a tight timeline, Safe Structures delivered the new stands in just two weeks. With the new design, mechanics can effortlessly mount an engine into the stand and rotate it 360 degrees with a hand crank.
For more information on custom work stands and storage racks, visit the company’s website at https://safestructuredesigns.com.