Health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS), which monitor critical aircraft parts and systems using onboard sensors, are typically found on large helicopters, such as those serving the oil-and-gas industry and military operations. Now, Cornwall, Vermont-based GPMS (Booth C3828) is offering Foresight MX, a just-STC’d, next-generation “prognostic health monitoring system” for the Bell 407GX and -GXP, the first such system designed for light turbine helicopters. Subsequent STCs are planned for the 407GXI, AStar 350 and MD500.
Eric Bechhoefer, GPMS co-founder, CEO, and chief engineer, told AIN, “Our Foresight HUMS meets the necessary requirements for weight, cost, and simplicity for the Bell 407GX and 407GXP, making the 407 model a great first platform for the STC.” GPMS has been developing Foresight MX for more than five years.
Bell, explained Jed Kalkstein, GPMS president and CFO, had been trying to get a HUMS for the 407 for many years and had an RFP in process for more than a year when GPMS visited the helicopter manufacturer. “After the folks at Bell saw Foresight, the OEM abandoned the RFP process and started over. This triggered a two-year testing and selection process for GPMS and culminated in us getting the certification last spring and signing a distribution agreement with Bell.”
Duke Energy, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, selected Foresight MX, and one of its four Bell 407Gx helicopters became the platform for the STC. “Duke Energy was so happy with it,” Kalkstein said, “that they decided to outfit the rest of their fleet.” Installation of Foresight MX on the third aircraft started in mid-January.
Flight Testing on a Bell 206B
Before obtaining the Bell 407 STC, GPMS partnered with Eagle Aviation Academy of Midland City, Alabama, to do the initial flight-testing of Foresight MX on a Bell 206B. However, GPMS has not yet STC’d the product on the 206. “We did an FAA Form 337 installation on the 206B, which requires much of the same paperwork and engineering,” Kalkstein explained. “As soon as we have a customer who wants Foresight MX for a 206, we’ll submit the paperwork to get it certified on that platform as well.” (The FAA Form 337 is used to approve major repairs and alterations on a certified aircraft.)
Why has it taken the industry so long to come up with a good next-generation HUMS for light helicopters? AIN asked. “In short,” Kalkstein replied, “HUMS has a bad rap. Although being a great concept, legacy HUMS are too hard to understand, too heavy, and too expensive. So, they are acceptable for large aircraft and large fleets, but not smaller aircraft and smaller fleet operators. Our system was designed around the maintainer—ease of use and actionable information. Our HUMS kit for the 407 [a Part 27 helicopter] weighs less than nine pounds.” Foresight MX for Part 29 helicopters weighs 20 pounds, while traditional HUMS weigh more than 100 pounds.
“Foresight is the first real, prognostic/predictive, maintenance solution, which gives operators time to plan maintenance,” Kalstein continued. “And the automated, optimized rotor track and balance feature makes a black art more like painting by numbers.”
Monitoring Multiple Parameters
Unlike some basic, so-called HUMS, which monitor only vibration, Foresight MX monitors vibration, rotor track and balance, flight regime recognition, flight data, and engine performance. “The diagnostic portions of [legacy] HUMS have some limitations on how they can be used,” Kalkstein said. “We’ve heard of special operations teams needing to call Sikorsky to ask if they can fly their next mission because they don’t have the kind of useful life estimates that can make these systems more valuable.”
Bechhoefer and Jack Taylor (GPMS’s other co-founder and also its senior software architect) have been developing systems for condition monitoring and prognostics for 19 years, including being on the team that helped develop the integrated vehicle health management (IVHM) system for Goodrich UTC. “Eric [Bechhoefer] realized there were a lot of things he would have liked to have done there,” Kalkstein said. “He and Jack went into wind turbines first, for which they designed a bussed architecture. This reduced the amount of wire and cost, in terms of the hardware components. They then demonstrated the concept on more than 100 wind turbines, which accumulated more than 18 million hours over five years.”
Eventually, the co-founders decided to go back into the helicopter HUMS market and started building what became the Foresight system. Their goal was to design the perfect HUMS solution “by putting all the complicated things that happen in the background and simplifying them in the user interface so that maintainers can easily make decisions about what they need to do.
“We think our system brings a number of advantages that will make return-on-investment easier for all helicopter operators, but in particular making the technology available for the light helicopter operators for the first time,” Kalkstein concluded.
GPMS also offers Foresight FX for the oil-and-gas industry and other industrial applications: “anything that vibrates or rotates creates wear; and worn parts eventually fail,” as it says on the GPMS website.