As a young boy growing up, I always asked my father about how different things were made. This was a nightly ritual of both genuine interests, but also a stalling tactic we both recognized. Whether that night’s inquiry on how some item was manufactured was about eyeglasses, cars, paper towels, boats, garden hoses, or airplanes, my father always gave me enough description to at least lead me to believe he knew and subsequently quenched my imagination.
My other fascination and interest at that point centered around seeing all the aircraft at the annual air show, as I grew up adjacent to a large U.S. Air Force base. Yes, I am still one of those looking up with interest at whatever is flying overhead, even to the point of walking outside if I don’t audibly detect what kind of airplane or rotorcraft I hear. Looking back, it is no wonder I became an engineer with a career in aerospace manufacturing and assembly. Fast forward three decades, and I still have that fascination about where the next advances and innovations are leading us.
Many models of aircraft were developed in the 1950s and ’60s, and numerous rotorcraft and fixed-wing aircraft still have their roots in the designs from this period. Several models initially designed and developed during this period include Bell’s UH-1 (Huey), AH-1 (Cobra), and models 206/212, Cessna models 172 and 182, the Sikorsky CH-53, Northrop Grumman’s E-2 and T-38 models, Beechcraft’s King Air, and Boeing’s CH-47 and 737. All of these have had variants or large replacement assemblies, i.e., wings, in rate production within the past year! It is not unusual to have 60 years of roots of these variants in production today. Furthermore, the runway of the CH-47 has lately shown a clear path to almost 90 years of production around 2040.
Although headlines seem to focus on the newest models, the advent that there could be derivatives from hand-drawn 2-D prints to today’s model-based definition allows many of these time tested platforms to be automated for efficiencies and quality unlike ever before. Some innovators are taking advantage of the rapid technological advancements in IoT [HRC@A-V1] and automation, not only identifying market niches but widening them at the same time.