Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America

Richard F. Spivey, Director, US Army Aeroflightdynamics Directorate (AFDD)

Based at NASA Ames Research Center, south of San Francisco, Dick Spivey leads about 85 US Army employees and 45 contractors performing fundamental and applied rotorcraft research. The Army Aeroflightdynamics Directorate (AFDD) is comprised of “smart folks who do deep research on interesting and important things,” he explains. The AFDD Advanced Design Organization, for example, is now doing pre-design and advanced design work on Joint Multi-Role (JMR) concepts to replace the Apache, Black Hawk and other helicopters around 2030. “Pure helicopters, compound helicopters, tilt rotors, anything you can imagine in the field – our guys and gals are doing that.”

AFDD is a division of the Army Aviation and Missiles Development and Engineering Command (AMRDEC) headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama. Its director notes the fresh-start JMR poses special challenges for an industry long occupied with derivative work. “The biggest issue right now is the fact that it’s been so long since anyone has developed a military rotorcraft from scratch. Probably, the project engineer on the JMR will have never developed a military rotorcraft before.” He adds, “We’re got a problem with turnover in our industry. The last 15 years, there’s been very little military development. Industry has used most of their talent to make existing rotorcraft better, not to build new ones. It takes a different skill set. Using a team approach, we want to increase the capability of all parties – government, industry and academia – so that JMR will yield a balanced solution to the emerging requirements.”

As the aerodynamicist on the AH-1 Cobra, project engineer on the Model 214 Super Huey and business development director on the V-22 Osprey, Mr. Spivey helped bring diverse rotorcraft to production over 47 years at Bell Helicopter. “I like to tell people I know less about helicopters today than I knew in 1959 when I came on at Bell – back then, I thought I knew everything.”

Growing up in Marietta, Georgia, Dick Spivey had only a tangential interest in aircraft from the nearby Lockheed factory. “My father and my mother both worked in that plant when it was the Bell Bomber Plant back in World War II,” he recalls. “My dad worked for the telephone company at Bell in Marietta, and he would bring home pictures of airplanes Bell had built over the years.”

Interest and economics pointed Dick Spivey to Georgia Tech. “I was very interested in physics and the technical side of the business, and Tech was inexpensive and convenient. I couldn’t afford to go off somewhere, so I applied to Tech because I could live at home and drive to school every day.” A work-study program provided aerospace direction. “I wanted to major in physics,” recalls Mr. Spivey. “Georgia Tech had a co-op program, and that way I could work every other quarter and afford to stay in school. It turned out the physics department did not have a co-op plan at that time. I went to AE – the aerospace engineering department – because it did.”

The experience launched a rotarywing career. “I was Bell’s first Georgia Tech co-op student and started in flight test engineering,” notes Mr. Spivey. “I got to Bell in April 1959, and the XV-3 [tilt rotor] was sitting on the ramp, which was a strange device that I had never seen before.” Bell at the time filled its production lines with H-13s and Hueys. “I worked for them off and on until I was a senior. In my last co-op job at Bell, I had moved from flight test to the Aerodynamics group. I got involved in basic engineering at Bell when I was still in school.”

With a new degree in aerospace engineering, Dick Spivey found a job with Lockheed working on the C-141 and other development programs including the Fulton Recovery System for the HC-130H Hercules. “We pumped up the balloon, got the anthropo-morphic dummies ready, turned on the recorders, and got the heck out of the way when the airplane grabbed them and jerked them off the ground.”

Back To Bell
Bell opportunities nevertheless drew the young engineer back to rotorcraft. “I was hired in January 1964 in the aerodynamics section. Mr. Spivey recalls, “There weren’t very many of us – you had to work on everything. That’s rare – we’re so compartmentalized today, new engineers don’t get to see the whole airplane.” As an aerodynamicist, he designed rotors and ran wind tunnel tests for the Cobra, Huey and the Huey-based Model 533 High Performance Helicopter. “It reached 315 miles per hour in level flight, and it still holds the rotorcraft unofficial speed record if you don’t count tilt-rotors.”
In 1972, Mr. Spivey took a new job marketing the Bell XV-15 tilt rotor to NASA in a competition with Boeing. “I had spent a lot of engineering time on the XV-15. I designed the rotor and was the project aerodynamicist for the XV-15. When they reorganized marketing, I started marketing the XV-15 My boss at the time thought it would be a good career move for me to get some experience being in touch with the customer.”

The turboshaft tilt rotor was a follow-on to the XV-3. “The XV-3 had a rotor stability problem that nobody understood early-on,” Mr. Spivey recalls. “Eventually, Troy Gaffey and some of his folks at Bell solved that problem, and the NASA/Army XV-15 grew out of the need to prove that that was a viable solution.” The research tilt rotor broke more new engineering ground. “Nobody knew what the empty weight of a tilt rotor ought to be. Weight and drag were the biggest issues we had to deal with.”

The aircraft ultimately proved the rotor stability solution valid, and it was flown through many experimental flights and by influential guest pilots. According to Mr. Spivey, “The XV-15 also proved the reliability of a tilt rotor. When you looked at the loads, the vibration, the noise, the power, the ease of operation, that machine was a dream. It was a very safe rotorcraft. That really was the storehouse of knowledge that allowed the V-22 program to come into being.”

The big, marinized, V-22 with breakthrough all-composite structures and fly-by-wire controls nevertheless posed far greater engineering challenges. “Aircraft scaling has always been tricky,” observes Mr. Spivey. “Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. We were talking about a machine that weighed three to four times what the XV-15 did.”

“The second big concern was how to get it on a ship. We had to figure out how to fold it up and operate safely on a ship – which we did. But it cost us. It made the airplane less an optimum tiltrotor because those rotors had to be smaller than we wanted them to be.”
The combat tilt rotor also introduced extraordinary survivability and maintainability requirements. “Those requirements were like nothing I had seen before, and I was familiar with the requirements for the Cobra, the Huey, the Black Hawk, and the AH-64. I knew them from earlier work, and the V-22 went so far beyond those requirements, it was a real challenge.”

The Osprey ultimately overcame technical hurdles, testing tragedies and political struggles. “I think the V-22 is finally beginning to show what we expected from it from the beginning,” says Mr. Spivey. “It’s taken a long time, and we’ve had to re-design the aircraft more than once to get it right.”

JMR sets the stage for a new rotorcraft revolution. AFDD director Spivey says, “Guess what? We have it to do all over again, and we are planning to do it differently based on lessons from the past.” He explains, “We need to utilize the lessons learned from history to improve the concept of doing an EMD [Engineering and Manufacturing Development] program by doing your technical homework before the EMD program starts. By taking on the technical risks early in the process, the EMD program risk can be greatly reduced, and “unknown unknowns” can be sorted out with less impact on the cost and schedule. In fact, a lower-risk EMD program can result in a faster and less costly development program overall.”

In Government Service
Dick Spivey first retired from Bell in 2002, but he continued to work on V-22 and Quad Tilt Rotor Joint Heavy Lift concepts as a consultant. His second departure in 2006 launched a series of outside consulting jobs, including a research engineer’s spot at the University of Alabama. In 2009, AFDD hired its current director under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) that allows university faculty to fill temporary assignments at federal agencies. Mr. Spivey notes, “A lot of the advanced technology work they were doing out here I had been involved with at Bell, even in my marketing role. This gave me the opportunity to continue that kind of work.”

AFDD researchers with wind tunnels, simulators, and manned and unmanned research aircraft today focus on rotors, flight controls, human-machine interfaces, and unmanned air systems. The head of the AFDD advanced design organization, Bruce Tenney, doubles as the integrated product team leader for design for JMR. Mr. Spivey observes, “We have a lot of other technologies underway here, some of which contribute directly to JMR, and some in other categories.” He explains, “Ultimately, our job is to interface with the industry. We’re interfacing right now with Fort Rucker and the users from other services, trying to understand what their requirements are. Then we interface with industry to help satisfy those requirements.” He adds, “We double-check with industry to see if their ideas and concepts can meet those requirements, and we come up with our own ideas.”

AFDD draws on wind tunnels at Ames and Langley, and other resources, to provide foundational knowledge. “On JMR, we’re trying to do our homework first; trying to do the science and technology work up front so that the risk is low enough where it’s a reasonable program to embark on.” Ongoing AFDD research on Computational Fluid Dynamics, for example, aims to understand the complex flow fields around rotorcraft. “It is a technical issue to get helicopters and vertical lift airplanes efficient in forward flight, and to be quiet. We’ve got to work harder at making those airplanes better at what they’re supposed to do.”

Most AFDD researchers start in industry or academia. “We don’t hire a lot, but we work hard to make sure we have the right workforce,” says Mr. Spivey. Vertical Lift Research Centers of Excellence at the University of Maryland, Georgia Tech and Penn State with other schools work with the Directorate on fundamental research. “They are working on a myriad of programs that are aimed at bringing students along, getting them involved with rotorcraft.” AFDD also manages the National Rotorcraft Technology Center (NRTC), costsharing with industry on precompetitive advanced technology.

Dick Spivey personally looks to technology to maximize the return on rotorcraft investment. “In the studies we’ve done over the years, we realized the majority of the life cycle costs of rotorcraft are in its operational costs, not in the development of the airplane nor in the production of the airplane. Our emphasis is trying to design a rotorcraft like your old Chevy truck. It will go to work every morning, and you don’t need a raft of mechanics to work on it. That’s not the way most military rotorcraft are designed today. They all require a lot of maintenance.”

Mr. Spivey adds, “It may cost you a bit more to develop it. It may cost you a bit more to buy it, but if you can build an aircraft that’s got a lower cost of operation, you can change the equation. If you can reduce the cost of rotorcraft operation, rotorcraft become a lot more valuable, and the money saved can be used to better help the soldier in other areas.”

Cost and complexity pushed JMR ahead of Joint Heavy Lift (JHL) as the next big opportunity for the US rotorcraft industry. “It’s not that the JHL technology can’t be done,” observes Mr. Spivey. “I think it’s the size of the program. It’s like a C-5 or C-17 program. But, heavy vertical lift needs to happen, and at some point in the future, it will happen. I say that because I look at the Army’s and the Marines’ way of fighting. Moving mounted forces quickly anywhere is a potential game-changer.

“The need to be able to move armored vehicles, fuel, supplies, and people to any place on earth at a moment’s notice is going to become very important. It will change warfare if it comes along. In my mind, the need is very, very acute. Technically, I think it could happen, but I do think it’s an issue of money and priorities. It is a major change from what they do today, and that in itself may be the hardest part – to change people’s perceptions on how we go to battle.” Mr. Spivey concludes, “The Air Force appears to be the most likely service to develop this large rotorcraft. The present US Army major rotorcraft development effort is the JMR program, and we intend to learn from past programs how to do it correctly.”

Leadership Profile: Vertiflite March/April 2012