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

From Leadership Profile: Vertiflite Fall 2006

Albert L. Winn, Vice President Apache Programs, Boeing Rotorcraft Division

Al Winn joined McDonnell Douglas in 1984, shortly after the first production AH-64A model Apache emerged from the former Hughes Helicopters Inc. factory in Mesa Arizona. Today, as vice president of Apache Programs for The Boeing Company, he leads the team that engineers, manufactures, markets, and sustains the Apache Longbow worldwide. Over nearly 40 years in the US government and private industry, Mr. Winn has participated in the evolution of battlefield helicopters and the engineering tools that design them.

With over 1,000 AH-64As and Apache Longbow AH-64Ds serving the US Army and 10 international customers, Boeing Mesa is now engineering the new Block III AH-64D for delivery to the US Army starting in 2011. “In many ways it looks a lot like the original Apache,” concedes Mr. Winn, “but that isn’t even skin deep because everything within it is the latest technology.”

Block III technology includes an open system architecture, integrated “Level IV” control of Unmanned aircraft Systems (UAS), and Cognitive Decision Aiding System for a busy crew. The emphasis on network-centric electronics has put a premium on systems engineers at Boeing Mesa and elsewhere in the helicopter industry. However, Mr. Winn points out, “You also need to have people that have the fundamental understanding of the aircraft or the helicopter as well. Even though our tools are great, engineers still need to have the basic knowledge of how things work on helicopters. Helicopters are very unique and very different from every other product out there.”

Though his career has centered on US Army helicopters, Al Winn applied to be a Naval Aviator during his senior year at California Polytechnic. A Pensacola flight physical abruptly changed his direction. “I’m not the Bionic Man, but I have got a little titanium and a little stainless steel in me,” he explains. The past surgery ended dreams of flight training and a naval career. However, Cal Poly professors sent their eager young aerospace engineer to interview with the Army Flight Activity at Edwards Air Force Base, California in 1968. “That was how I got introduced to helicopters.”

As a flight test engineer at Edwards, Mr. Winn gained hands-on experience with helicopter systems integration. “That was obviously during the Vietnam War, so we did a lot of trial bolt-it-on-go-fly-it-type modifications because that was when the Army really first started using helicopters in combat,” he recalls. “We were strapping anything and everything you could think of on Hueys, OH-58s, and OH-6s – including guns – for the first time. That was a pretty exciting time.”

Mr. Winn earned his master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California in 1974. After 10 years at Edwards, he transferred to the then-Army Aviation Research and Development Command in St Louis. There, Mr. Winn became the lead engineer on the Black Hawk program and helped bring the Utility Tactical Transport Aircraft System to production. He subsequently filled the same position in the AH-64 Advanced Attack Helicopter program. Before the Army withdrew from the Joint-service Vertical Lift (JVX) effort, Mr. Winn helped launch the program that led to the V-22 tilt rotor. He co-authored the first Army Aviation Modernization Plan and started the Light Helicopter Experimental (LHX) that morphed into the RAH-66 Comanche.

The Light Helicopter program brought Al Winn to Mesa and private industry. “When I came here, I was working on the LHX program as a technology lead.” When McDonnell Douglas and Bell lost the competition to build a low-observable scout/attack helicopter in 1991, Mr. Winn went on to manage advanced configuration design and AH-64 product definition and became director of Apache Longbow engineering. He was appointed vice president of engineering at McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems in 1992.

Development of the AH-64D Longbow Apache was different from the design and test effort that shaped the AH-64A at Hughes Helicopters. Mr. Winn explains, “If you looked at the original Apache, that was a new aircraft, so you had to get the whole rotor, dynamics, propulsion system, flight controls, everything operating . . . The analytical tools used to design aircraft then were not that robust. They’d kind of get you in the general area, but after that it was kind of trial-and-error to get the things to work right. The original A model had a big focus on getting the mechanical systems working together.”

 While the AH-64A fielded in 1986 did introduce night visionics, the laser-designated missiles, and other advanced mission systems, the original Apache required only modest software and little systems integration. “It was basically an analog airplane,” says Mr. Winn. “The crew, not the systems, integrated the aircraft.”

Boeing and McDonnell Douglas merged in 1997, and the first modernized AH-64D rolled out in March of that year. The Block I AH-64D required only the mechanical changes needed to support the “glass” cockpit, fire control radar, and related mission avionics. However Mr. Winn explains, “That was a highly integrated design. It was a digital design.”

Significantly, the Block I Apache Longbow marked the Army’s third attempt to develop digital cockpits that would reduce crew workload. Mr. Winn notes both the OH-58D Kiowa and MH-60K/MH-47E Special Operations Aircraft revealed the difficulty in integrating crew stations. “They eventually got those cockpits to work,” he says. “But when the Army came in to do the development testing on them, they did not operate effectively. In fact, they quantified that the workload had increased going from the analog cockpit to the digital cockpit.”

In contrast, the early Apache Longbow crew station received positive reviews from Army aviators due in large part to new design tools. Mr. Winn recalls, “We did a huge amount of interfacing with pilots, operators, a huge effort using simulation to develop the interfaces with the crew and validate those with Army pilots flying in the simulation. It worked.”

The tools developed for Block I Apache Longbow modernization and refined through Block II now take Boeing systems engineers from operational to design requirements faster. Mr. Winn notes, “Simulation up front has made a tremendous improvement in defining the detail design requirements that you need to put in so that the crew can work effectively with the equipment on the airplane.” Cockpit symbology and other changes are now validated before they fly. “We know they’re right because we’ve flown them in simulation,” observes Mr. Winn.

The revolution in computer design tools and simulation now extends to the Block III air vehicle. The Block III AH-64D introduces a split-torque face gear transmission and advanced airfoil composite rotor blades. However, Mr. Winn notes, “The number of people, engineers and so on, that are doing the design is less than on the original Block II and less than the A-model Apache. The reason for that is the capability of the toolsets that we’re using today. . .

“Across the board, the analytical tools have improved,” says Mr. Winn. “The tools that we have today with computational fluid dynamics, improvements in NASTRAN (NASA Structural Analysis program), and our dynamic loads tools do a pretty good job of estimating the loads, performance, and dynamics of the system operating together, so they get you pretty close. When you get into flight test, what you’re left with is fine-tuning versus a major design effort.”

Modern design tools and techniques also save development time. The Block III AH-64D packs its more powerful transmission in the existing Apache fuselage. Boeing engineers designed the transmission in their Unigraphics database. Mr. Winn explains, “We ported that over to our stereolithography system. It created a full-size transmission replica from this plastic material, and we went out and bolted it into the airplane.”

The impact on development time is dramatic. Mr. Winn says, “We can go from starting a clean sheet design for a component to where we can bolt it on the airplane with stereolithography equipment in a couple of weeks. Previously, if we had to cast metal, do forgings, or even just machine it out, you were talking a year.”

Also compared with the AH-64A and early Apache Longbows made in the same facility, the Block III AH-64D will benefit from Mesa production advances. “We’re a leader in Lean Manufacturing,” says Mr. Winn. “We have taken dramatic cost out of the build of the airplane. . . I expect when we build those first Block III airplanes, they’ll be already well down what most folks look at as the classical learning curve as far as assembly time. I also expect we’re going to spend very little time reworking the airplane. It’s going to be the production airplane from Ship One forward.”

Block III initially remanufactures Block I AH-64Ds, helicopters already remanufactured from AH-64As. Mr. Winn nevertheless believes the technology of the Apache remains competitive. “Much of the capability of the Apache is based on its survivability. It’s a brute. It can go out there and take fire better than any aircraft. That’s associated with redundancy and other design concepts. It also stems from high-hardness steels in many critical components. . . Those materials are still the best materials to use for their applications.        

“The basic structure of the Block III airplane is aluminium but a lot of the structure that attaches to it is composite. A lot of the aluminium which used to be sheet metal build-up is now high-speed machined. So we have modernized the basic aircraft over time.” Mr. Winn adds, “The avionics system will be leading-edge technology and capability. We’re replacing the rotor system, the transmission, and the dynamic system on the D model . . . We expect to reduce flight hour costs 30% compared to the current D model.”

After Block III, Boeing looks to a composite tailboom, vertical fin, and horizontal stabilizer to trim the weight and optimize the center of gravity of future Apaches. Fly-by-wire controls that were too expensive for today’s remanufacturing program may make new AH-64s more responsive and further reduce pilot workload.

Al Winn became vice president of Boeing Mesa engineering in 1997 and general manager of rotorcraft engineering in 2000. He notes, “The technologies that are going into Block III we started developing around 1997. . .And most of the technologies were developed outside the main Apache program funding.”

Boeing Mesa, using independent research and development funding, worked with DARPA, the Army, and other sponsors through co-operative Research and Development Agreements, Commercial Operations and Support Savings Initiatives, and other vehicles to advance Apache Technologies. The innovative relationships provided a portfolio of technologies for the Block III AH-64D.

The Army and other traditional US government research sponsors are today focused more on mission systems than fundamental rotorcraft research. “Years ago, the tilt rotor concept came out of advanced concept programs sponsored by the government. We haven’t had any kind of program like that in a number of years.” says Mr. Winn. “We don’t have what I’d call a national investment to continue to advance rotorcraft-type technologies. . . Other countries are continuing to and starting to invest more in that area. Down the road it could be a problem and the US could fall behind.

“With the toolsets and the analytical capabilities that we have today, I think, if we could get some emphasis there and funding, the rotorcraft industry could come up with some pretty fantastic things. We could see advancements that would surprise us all.”