GPMS targets light helicopter operators with new predictive maintenance system

A new health and usage monitoring system (HUMS) is aiming to democratize predictive and preventative maintenance, bringing the technology to the world of light helicopters.

The system, known as Foresight, is the brainchild of Eric Bechhoefer, a former Navy pilot with more than 20 years of experience in avionics, who developed the product through his company, Green Power Monitoring Systems (GPMS).

Foresight was piloted in Duke Energy’s Bell 407s last year. Duke Energy Photo
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The system has five key features: engine performance monitoring, mechanical system monitoring, flight regime recognition, flight data monitoring, and rotor track and balance. And not only does Foresight provide health and usage monitoring, it calculates the remaining useful life on key components to help maintenance engineers keep ahead of any potential issues.

“We’ve essentially got an opportunity to have maintainers moved from a world where they’re using traditional forms of maintenance to one where they’re leveraging the benefits of predictive analytics,” Andrew Swayze, head of marketing at GPMS, told Vertical.

The cloud-based system includes both hardware and software components, with an intuitive user interface.

Foresight was piloted in Duke Energy’s Bell 407s last year. Following the completion of the pilot, the company decided to outfit its entire fleet with the system, contracting GPMS to adapt the system for the Bell 429, too. GPMS is also working on supplemental type certificates for the product “for a number of other platforms,” said Bechhoefer.

“The 407 is a great platform to start with,” he said. “We actually started with a 206, but there’s a lot of 407s out there and so that’s a very attractive market.”

Airbus AS350/H125 AStars are similarly attractive, and GPMS plans to soon have an STC for that type.

The company believes that 70 percent of light helicopters lack any kind of HUMS, representing an enormous potential market.

The Foresight system has five key features: engine performance monitoring, mechanical system monitoring, flight regime recognition, flight data monitoring, and rotor track and balance. Here, the system is being used in Duke Energy’s hangar. Duke Energy Photo

“We’d compete well against the medium or heavy [HUMS] applications that are already out there, but there’s really no solution for the light helicopter market,” said Bechhoefer. “And if anyone needs these things, it’s those guys, because they’re much more on a budget, I think, than the larger operators or heavy fleet operators.”

One of the key finds of the system during the pilot was the detection of a potential issue with a duplex bearing. And when Duke Energy looked in the gearbox during a routine 2,500-hour inspection, they found one of the bearings was indeed heavily scuffed.

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“So the system worked as designed and they were able to do opportunistic maintenance and basically get rid of an unscheduled maintenance event, which would have been expensive,” said Bechhoefer.

Another event saw a pilot complaining about a loss of engine power while working remotely. Instead of having to jump on a plane and travel to the helicopter, Duke’s maintenance team was able to look at the analytics screen and confirm that, due to bleed air bleed being on, the reduced power was a normal condition.

According to GPMS, the Foresight system overcomes the most common complaints about HUMS systems: that they’re too expensive, heavy, have a high false alarm rate, or don’t detect events successfully enough.

Foresight weighs just 8.8 pounds (four kilograms), and according to GPMS, is about half the cost of a comparable medium helicopter HUMS kit — ranging from $50,000 to $80,000 up front, depending on the complexity of the components being monitored. On top of this is a subscription fee, but Bechhoefer said the system quickly proves its worth.

“If you’re probably flying more than 200/300 hours a year, this is going to pay for itself in under two years,” he said. “We’re providing more operational readiness, the ability to get rid of unscheduled flights. And so we’re also reducing risk.”

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