It is no secret that helicopter pilots don't find the collective in their helicopters comfortable. That's why Robert Hale, business segment manager for aerospace and defense at Essex Industries of St. Louis, decided to create an ergonomic collective grip. Hale brought 3D-printed prototypes of both an ergonomic collective and an ergonomic cyclic to display this week at the Essex Industries’ Heli-Expo 2019 booth (C121).
“When flying in cruise, helicopter pilots usually rest their left hand on the box at the end of the collective. Is that comfortable?” he asked during a show floor demonstration of the prototype grips. “No,” was the answer from demonstration participants. Hale quickly replied, “Obviously not. This is why I wanted to create an ergonomic collective grip that would be comfortable and have the functionality needed in today’s cockpits.”
The patent-pending ergonomic collective grip incorporates additional switches to put more needed tasks at their fingertips, thus eliminating hand repositioning—taking the cyclic with one’s left hand so one can reach a switch with one’s right hand—or requiring both the flying and non-flying pilot coordinating electronic switching. Single pilots can maintain control of all electronic switch functions using the ergonomic collective grip. And the unique shape of the grip provides the optimum hand position for long-range comfort, helping to reduce fatigue.
Essex Industries has broad experience in building control grips for dozens of aircraft, both civil and military, and land combat vehicles, including U.S. (F-16, C-17, F-18, Bell 525, Sikorsky S-61, and M113 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, for example) and overseas applications (Airbus A330, MiG-21, Sukhoi Superjet 100) to name a few.
The first ergonomic collective grip Essex developed is for the UH-60 Black Hawk. This grip has eight different switches, including a cursor slew switch and a head-up display switch. The grip can be modified to fit any rotorcraft platform, Hale said, adding that it is particularly suited to applications that require a wide range of functionality. Switches can be changed, as needed, to include multiple uses, such as weapon or sensor control.
Evan Brown, director of test and certification for Ace Aeronautics of Guntersville, Alabama, which focuses on commercial and military off-the-shelf products for airplanes and rotorcraft to provide solutions to avionics obsolescence and capability gaps, is assisting Essex with development of the ergonomic grips.
Essex Industries also introduced at Heli-Expo 2019 its ambidextrous cursor grip for aircraft where there is not enough room for both right and left slew grips. This single control mounts on the console between the pilot and copilot seats for use by both pilots, as the ambidextrous design is suitable for use by the right or left hand and can be modified to fit other rotary- or fixed-wing platforms.
Essex also manufacturers the traditional right and left slew grips, mounted on the console to provide sensor control.