November 7, 2004
The Army and the Navy are borrowing technology and methods from NASCAR to improve their maintenance and repair work. One quick trick lifted from NASCAR is a simple Mylar plastic film that is applied to race car windshields to minimize damage from rocks and other flying debris. When the film is scratched up, it is simply peeled off and a fresh one is applied. The film is designed to be used at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour without coming off and cuts down on ultraviolet rays by 99 percent without interfering with visibility.
Two North Carolina companies have adapted the technology to military helicopters. Changes to the product have included the ability for night vision devices to work with the protective films, greater resistant to a wider range of environmental conditions NASCAR racers don't fly at 10,000 or higher and getting rid of the static electrical charge stock mylar tended to create. The Army wasn't interested in the product until reports of windscreen pitting and scratching from Iraq and Afghanistan started filtering in and quickly grew to a flood. Replacing a Blackhawk's windshield can run between $3,000 to $7,000 dollars while an application of protective mylar film will run around $100 and provide protection against sand damage and other debris strikes between four to six months.
The technology has been less successful when applied to armored Humvees. Both NASCAR and helicopters use Lexan plastic for their windscreens, while Humvees use a layered sandwich of glass and polycarbonate material. Mylar peel-away coatings bubble up and start peeling when applied to the glass.
"Pit stop" techniques have been applied to the THAAD anti-missile system to reduce time to repair parts and organize equipment for quicker repairs; the time to replace key components have been cut from half a day to under half an hour. THAAD maintenance has been redesigned to rely on fewer and less-skilled soldiers. Each piece of equipment has red and green lights to indicate if it is working. Cable connections have been moved from the rear of units to the front, with handles and pull-out racks added to cabinets. A simple blinking red light indicates a broken module and color and numbers are used to indicate where replacement components should go. The number of tools needed for repairs has been cut from "hundreds" to 16, so faults can be identified and repaired within minutes instead of hours.
Finally, new aircraft carriers will be designed with a "NASCAR-style" pit stop to move planes in and out of for refueling, rearming, and repairs. Current operations take an aircraft and move it from station to station on a crowded flight deck for fuelling and arming. Today's Nimitz-class carriers can manage up to 120 sorties in a 12 hour day but the navy wants to boost that to 160 sorties on the CVN 21 through the use of a one-stop station to fuel, load weapons, and make quick repairs. Doug Mohney