WSU collaboration will move Army Aviation into the future with Apache modernization


The U.S. Army Aviation enterprise is collaborating with Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) to develop an AH-64 Apache Digital Twin in a contract that kicked off with a ribbon-cutting event on campus.

The Apache Digital Twin program follows the UH-60 Black Hawk Digital Twin, which involves the disassembly and scanning of an existing helicopter to create 3D models. It’s a tedious process but one that is necessary to continue moving the aviation enterprise from its current 2D document-driven engineering practices to the institutionalized use of modern 3D digital engineering practices, to supporting the transition to Future Vertical Lift’s entirely digital design, and to sustaining the enduring fleet.

“We have to speed up the Army’s transition to 3D digital engineering practices,” said Maj. Gen. Walter “Wally” Rugen, director for the Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team. “The aviation enterprise needs to start now establishing the processes, tools and training methods required to transition and cultivate a relevant workforce from the industrial age to the digital era.”

The UH60 and AH64 digital twin programs will help:

  • Provide the military with models and methods to increase the robustness of the supply base.
  • Create digital work instructions.
  • Train new engineers and maintainers in a virtual environment.
  • Create a pathway for exposure and training in digital engineering principles. 

“Bringing Army Aviation sustainment into the digital age will give commanders and soldiers the tools needed to build and maintain combat power in our combat aviation brigades,” Rugen said. “With the expeditionary nature of multi-domain operations, advanced sustainment will be critical to our ability to achieve overmatch against our adversaries.”

The virtual prototyping program drives new technologies into the enduring fleet while building the foundation for the future fleet. The Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, and Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System programs view the virtual prototypes as a step toward eventual use of a digital twin and plan to incorporate its use as is feasible throughout the programs.

“We work as a team inside Army Program Executive Offices (PEO) Aviation,” said Brig. Gen. Robert “Rob” Barrie, PEO for Aviation. “We do it with industry, we do it with my colleagues [in the Army Aviation enterprise], but more importantly we do it with the entirety of our nation. What I see here at Wichita State certainly inspires me for our future, [and I understand and value] the importance of the work you’re doing here.”

The added bonus of allowing the Army to manufacture parts and replacements that are hard to get or too costly for vendors to make will continue to reduce operation and sustainment costs for the enduring fleet models.

“Creating a digital twin of an AH64 will help us transition our data systems to take advantage of 3D architectural drawings, which are being used for all of our signature modernization efforts,” said Maj. Gen. Todd Royar, commanding general for Aviation and Missile Command. “It will also enable readiness for the Apache fleet by being able to produce parts faster.”

“Our warfighters, the members of our military, the members of the Army are going to be safer and more secure in doing their jobs and performing their tasks and protecting us,” Moran said. “Secondly, the taxpayers are going to be better off because the use of digital twinning, allows for the equipment to be better maintained and to be improved and replaced and restored in a much more cost-effective way.”

“We see digital transformation as a way forward not only for our university, but also all of Kansas,” said WSU President Rick Muma. “Work in producing digital twins for our nation’s armed forces is an important component of the diversification of our state’s economy and improving the overall efficiency and sustainability of military aircraft.”

The new program will also provide new applied learning opportunities for students including disassembly, scanning, nondestructive inspection and reverse engineering. 

“This digital twin program is a valuable driver for applied learning experiences in multiple disciplines,” Muma said. “For our students here at the university, we are training them on tomorrow’s technology and preparing them for the careers and workforce needs of the future.”

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