The U.S. Navy plans to field a replacement for the MH-60S Seahawk helicopter’s gunner seat by 2019 to address safety issues associated with the current seating system.
The Naval Air Systems Command’s aircrew systems program office is working with the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s AIRWorks rapid prototyping team on the replacement effort, NAVAIR said Monday.
Dave Padula, program manager of the aircrew systems program office, said the existing MH-60S Seahawk gunner seat has directly caused medical groundings, decreased mission performance and chronic back injuries among aircrew.
NAVAIR initially sought new seating systems from industry, but top Navy leaders decided to engage NAWCAD’s AIRWorks team to develop a cost-effective platform that can be deployed as early as possible.
AIRWorks Director Gerald Swift noted that the rapid prototyping team provides seat design, program management, lead systems integration, engineering, test and logistics management support under the replacement project.
The team completed the concept design in August 2016, built the first prototype in September and flew the prototype for three flight hours in November.
AIRWorks created the first prototype to demonstrate that NAVAIR could develop a new seat that could address problems such as inadequate leg clearance, insufficient back support and lack of seat adjustability.
In January 2017, the team brought the prototype on a roadshow to the Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, California to gain feedback from more than 150 pilots and aircrew.
The NAVAIR/NAWCAD team currently works to refine the seat design, digitize drawings and create technical data packages to prepare for the flight test of the second prototype in March 2018.
The Navy also formed a 10-person Gunner Seat Fleet Task Force to gather real-time input from the fleet throughout the prototype development process.