Advanced composite materials for Apache helicopter fuselage

A four-year, $15.9 million cooperative agreement to design, manufacture and flight test a new centre fuselage section fabricated from advanced composite materials for Apache helicopters has been awarded to The Boeing Company. The section of fuselage, essentially from the aft cockpit of the aircraft to just behind the engines, will be lighter, stronger and easier to make than the existing all-metal structure.

Among the advanced techniques used will be the Design, Manufacturing and Producibility Simulation (DMAPS) process, developed by Boeing. It is a 3D computer modelling tool that allows `virtual’ aircraft to be designed with a far greater degree of efficiency and accuracy than previous techniques.

The award was granted by the US Army Aviation Applied Technology directorate (Aviation and Missile Command), under the Rotary Wing Structures Technology Demonstration programme. The programme funds cost and weight reduction initiates for the Army’s existing and future helicopter fleet.

Successful completion of the agreement also brings the potential of lengthening the service of Apaches. AH-64A Apaches are currently being remanufactured into the advanced AH-64D Longbow configuration, and the new composite fuselage could help the Apache and its derivatives stay in service well into the 21st Century.