NAVAIR Works to Improve CH-46E Sea Knight "Phrog" - Southern Maryland Headline News

NAVAIR Works to Improve CH-46E Sea Knight "Phrog"


By the Sea Knight program office, and Rob Koon, NAVAIR Public Affairs

This is not your father’s Phrog…well it could be…but recent improvements have gone a long way in improving the safety and payload of the 40-year-old Battle Phrog.

Responding to warfighter needs, the CH-46E Sea Knight (aka the “Phrog”) program office, PMA 226, located at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., is working on several programs aimed at improving the safety and recovering the payload of the Phrog.

“New lightweight armor, new pilot/co-pilot crashworthy seats and various hydraulic, avionic and structural improvements, will reduce the Phrog’s weight by more than 700 pounds over the next three years. Additional weight removal options, such as removing obsolete cockpit vibration absorbers, can be done to offset the weight gains made with any future modifications,” said Paul Fitzgerald, the Assistant Program Manager of Systems Engineering (APMSE).

“During the Vietnam era, the Sea Knight helicopter was outfitted with heavy, metallic armor plates around the engine and the flight control system to protect the aircraft from small arms fire. In 2003, lighter weight armor became an item of Congressional interest and the Phrog received funding in a markup in the 2004 Defense Appropriations Act,” added Fitzgerald.

With that money, the program office started the competitive procurement of the Lightweight Replacement Armor System (LWARS). Developed by ArmorWorks LLC of Phoenix, Ariz. LWARS replaces the heavy armor with a lightweight substitute that provides the same coverage area with same or better ballistic protection. The total weight savings amounted to more than 250 pounds.

Under the direction of Paul Fitzgerald, Daryl Bugbee, Sea Knight structural engineer, and fleet users, several value added features were incorporated into the new armor to improve interchangeability and durability. “Interchangeability allows easy movement of individual armor plates from one helicopter to another, a capability that did not exist with the old metallic armor, that had to be drilled to fit a specific helicopter,” said Fitzgerald.

“Within 28 months, the new armor was bought and fielded as standard mission equipment, well ahead of the planned schedule,” said Trish Butler, the Integrated Program Team lead.

“In mid October 2005, the first batch of new lightweight armor was delivered to the squadrons. By March 2006, all 166 sets were delivered to the fleet with a fully supported spares supply system,” said Jeff Pettigrew, Assistant Program Manager for Logistics (APML). “Installations are currently managed by the fleet to deploy the new armor as needed with priority given to helicopters operating in Iraq and as part of Marine Expeditionary Units.”

The Sea Knight is the only Navy or Marine Corps helicopter currently fitted with modern composite armor“The Sea Knight is the only Navy or Marine Corps helicopter currently fitted with modern composite armor,” said Lt. Col. Harry Hewson, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR)’s program manger for the Sea Knight helicopter and it’s T58 engines. “This armor gives Phrog crews the ability to lift more and operate in areas where the threat is considered too high for other helicopters. In Iraq, especially as we get into the hot summer months, it is really paying off.”

The current Phrog pilot seats, unmodified since the 1970s, are armored and very heavy when compared to current in-production helicopter pilot seats made from lighter ballistic-tolerant material. “The team managed to successfully compete the procurement of lighter seats and lowered the price of the new seats by more than $30,000 per aircraft,” added Butler.

In August 2005, the program office awarded a contract to Simula Aerospace & Defense Group of Phoenix Ariz. for the design and development of lightweight, armored and crash-worthy replacement pilot and copilot seats. The new seats are a variant of the seats currently used in the new UH-1Y and H-53 helicopters.

the new seats will reduce pilot fatigue and increase crew comfort“The seats, developed under the Lightweight Replacement Armored Seat Program (LRASP), are 200 pounds lighter than the existing 462-pound seats and provide the latest in crash survivability technology, ergonomic design and ballistic protection. With ergonomically designed seat cushions, the new seats will reduce pilot fatigue and increase crew comfort, which has become increasingly important with the long flight hours and high operations tempo experienced by crews operating in Iraq,” said Butler.

Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 165, based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., received the first new seats when Sea Knight 153969 paid a recent visit to Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) Depot Cherry Point. N.C. The remaining helicopters are scheduled to start receiving the new seats in early August 2006.

“The ability of the Sea Knight to perform medium lift assault support largely depends on aircraft payload. Over the past 40 years, the empty weight of the helicopter has grown to the point where the intended mission is constrained due to lack of payload,” said Hewson. “Between the new armor and the new seats, we have restored the capability to lift two additional Marines. Small increments in capability like that can add up and really make a difference in combat.”

“The Phrog is heavily deployed in the global war against terrorism. The program office’s efforts to reduce the helicopter’s weight via initiatives, such as new armor and seats are a cost effective means of restoring the mission payload to a seasoned war fighting asset,” Hewson added.

PHOTO: Capt. Tim Kent, Capt. Chadd Bloomstine, and Cpl. Seth Biehslich, U.S. Marine Corps, assigned to HMM 165, Camp Pendleton, receive the first Sea Knight helicopter with the new pilot and co-pilot seats installed. U.S. Navy photo by Larry Conley, NAVAIR Depot Cherry Point, N.C.

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