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Collins Aerospace recently cut the ribbon on a customer experience center aimed at allowing Army aviation officials to try emerging rotorcraft technologies before the service buys them for use aboard Future Vertical Lift aircraft.
Building immersive “experience centers” to show off emerging tech has been a trend for some time. Major aerospace players like Lockheed Martin and Bell have built similar facilities in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from lawmakers in Congress. Bell in July announced the construction of a dedicated FVL technology laboratory in Arlington, Texas.
Now comes Collins’ new facility in Huntsville, Alabama, which brings together all four major business divisions of parent company Raytheon in close proximity to Army aviation, which is headquartered at nearby Fort Rucker. The new facility allows the company to bring diverse technologies from its various divisions — Collins alone has dozens of product lines in six business units — to one place in the neighborhood of Army aviation, according to John Esposito, vice president of strategic pursuits at Collins. Unlike the quick-hit meetings that trade shows afford, the experience should grant more time for vendors to meet with uniformed and civilian Army officials as they pursue FVL.
“One of the things that our Army customer has impressed on us and on industry is the need to fly before they buy,” Esposito told Vertical in an interview. “It’s a procurement strategy where they really are looking for more-mature advanced technology, things that aren’t going to take years and years to mature. We saw that as an opportunity, with this experience center, as a way to co-locate near Redstone Arsenal and Army leadership where we could actually demonstrate our capabilities and our industry partners’ capabilities.”
The new facility is equipped with a helicopter mockup with a flight simulator into which emerging technologies can be integrated. As Future Vertical Lift progresses, the Army plans to buy onboard technologies from various vendors and all of those systems must play together in the same digital environment. Collins now has the ability to integrate that gear and let Army officials fly with them in the simulator.
“It’s basically a helicopter, with rotors, that has an [electronics] bay where we can plug in our products and the customer can climb in it and fly with them as they go,” Esposito said.