The Aircrew Systems Program Office delivered, installed and demonstrated the first two redesigned production MH-60S Seahawk gunner seats to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 at Naval Air Station North Island on Sept. 24 and 25.
The gunner seat redesign focused on safety and ergonomics to improve operator endurance.
In response to reports of chronic injuries to aircrew flying missions in the MH-60S while sitting in the gunner’s seat, Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller III, then Director, Air Warfare, directed the program office to update the seat to allow crewmembers to perform their missions with increased comfort and flexibility.
Testing on the prototypes was completed earlier this summer and the seat was manufactured and delivered Sept. 24 to HSC-3. Fleet installations are underway.
Naval Aircrewman Helicopter (AWS) 1 Amber Barlow, with HSC-23, reacted positively to the new seat.
“What I liked about what I saw today is you have the ability to lean forward, and forward and down actually, which gives someone like me, who has a very short reach, the ability to get closer to the weapon and still be able to shoot it from a seated position,” Barlow said.
She also noticed there was adjustability with the new gunner seat, including having a better range of motion when using the weaponry while remaining securely and comfortably strapped into the aircraft thanks to the redesigned restraint system.
The ability to adjust the seat’s height was a welcomed feature for AWS1 Patrick Boedeker, who is a tall gunner.
“Just being able to move my legs and be more mobile in the cabin helps. Usually, I can’t sit in a normal sitting position, because then my knees are so close to the window,” Boedeker said. “It’s more than I expected. It’s surprising and I like it.”
Hospital corpsman with the wing were pleased with the speed of delivery.
“I think that the engineers have done a fantastic job creating and implementing this new seat. This project has moved at break-neck speed. This is one of the fastest projects I have seen in the 16 years I have been in the Navy,” said HM1 Mark Skaggs, aeromedical safety corpsman with Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Pacific (HSCWP).
The program office used an innovative approach and formed a Gunner Seat Task Force (GSTF) to allow the fleet to provide real-time input during each step of the prototype’s development, said Fillip Behrman, integrated product team lead.
Throughout the design phase, the team used the GSTF as a resource to vet ideas, support fit checks and provide a conduit into the aircrew community.
“The gunner seat redesign is a great example of how taking measured risks for an urgent fleet need and incorporating direct fleet input allowed us to deliver capability with far greater speed. The result will be increased aircrew endurance and mission performance,” said Vice Adm. Dean Peters, commander, Naval Air Systems Command.
Redesign Focuses on Safety, Endurance
Improvements to the gunner seat focused on three areas, said Capt. Tom Heck, Air Crew Systems program manager.
“First of all, we want our aircrew to be safe. We deliver safe things that work the first time, every time. And second, we need them to be able to do their mission as effectively as they can because that’s why they’re out there—to accomplish the mission. Third, when they’re done with their mission and with their career, we want them to go on with the rest of life without having to suffer any kind of chronic injury.”
Since funding was received in May 2017, it has been a team effort to redesign a new gunner seat in-house to improve ergonomics and endurance to ensure mission success, said Fillip Behrman, Gunner Seat Integrated Production Team Lead with the Aircrew Systems Program Office.
For example, the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s (NAWCAD) AIRWorks office provided rapid prototyping to bring the redesign to life in six months.
“The success of the gunner seat redesign comes down to the power of relationships, using the direct input and collaboration with the fleet, coupled with a tailored approach using AIRWorks and organic prototyping allowed the team to go fast and deliver this capability with speed,” said Gary Kurtz, Program Executive Officer, Aviation Common Systems and Commercial Services.
In May 2018, the program office debuted its second prototype at the Naval Helicopter Association Symposium in Norfolk, Virginia. That same week, flight and ground testing began at HSC-2.
The design team relied on fleet feedback throughout the redesign process, culminating in production representative test article seats.
Air Test and Evaluation Squadrons (HX) 21, VX-1 and the NAWCAD Crashworthy and Escape Systems Branch conducted flight, ground and lab testing at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, all of which were completed this summer.
Based on fleet feedback, the current redesigned gunner seat includes the following features:
- Height adjustment, allowing for improved ergonomics and visibility
- Fabric seat back with embedded lumbar cushion for comfort on longer missions
- Seat pan designed to reduce pressure points on buttocks/legs while seated; seat pan folds up for greater mobility
- Seat position adjustable toward center of helicopter (center seat eliminated) to increase seated position leg room
- Increased webbing length to harness/restraint to improve gunner mobility
- Rear-facing seating option for port gunner seat
- Weight adjustable energy absorbers for greater crashworthiness
Endurance was not the only concern during the redesign—safety remains a top priority. The redesign had to meet rigorous standards necessary to protect aircrew should a crash occur.
Lindley Bark, branch head of the Crashworthy and Escape Systems explained that the crash testing is extensive to ensure as many scenarios as possible are addressed.
“We don’t know which direction we’re going to crash. But we have years of mishap data, and it’s taught us where our highest probable crash scenarios are, what severities are, what the angle and orientations are,” Bark said.
Production is fully underway, with a total of 12 Gunner Seat Mission Equipment Sets (GSMES), which include two seats plus a floor and ceiling mount, delivered to HSC-3, Behrman said.
Approximately 50 GSMES’s will be delivered per month until the entire H-60S fleet has been outfitted with the new seats.
Written by Rob Perry, a staff writer with Naval Aviation News and Andrea Watters, the editor. Also contributing to the article were Mikel Lauren Proulx, lead for NAVAIR’s Visual Information team, and Amie Blade, Common Systems and Commercial Services public affairs officer.