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Army Helicopters Borrow NASCAR Windshield Technology

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2004 – A laminate that protects NASCAR racecar windshields from rocks and debris will soon give extra protection to Army helicopters flying in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army's Aviation Applied Technology Directorate at Fort Eustis, Va., started testing the concept in March and just got the green light to begin applying the Mylar polyester coating to the windshields of operational aircraft.

Nathan Bordick, an engineer working on the project, said the Army borrowed the idea from NASCAR, where teams have been applying multiple layers of the peelable coatings to vehicle windshields for years to resist cracking, chipping and scratching. Periodically throughout a race, pit crews peel away a layer, leaving a clear, undamaged windshield for the laps ahead, he said.

Field tests on Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters showed that the coatings, which cost about $100 to apply, could significantly extend the life of aircraft windshields, which run $3,000 to $5,000 apiece, Bordick said.

First priority for the new coatings will go to helicopters flying in Iraq and Afghanistan, where sand and harsh desert conditions quickly batter windshields and render them unsafe. But, Bordick said, the Army would eventually like to add the coatings to all its aircraft windshields.

The coatings go on much like a typical window tint, Bordick said, but must be applied in a relatively controlled environment -- inside a building or hangar or within a bag constructed around the aircraft. Initially, the coating will be applied at the depot level, but the Army will begin training aircraft maintenance crews to apply it themselves, he said.

Bordick called the Army's use of a ready-made solution to its windshield problem a "proactive" decision that's saving tax dollars. "This is an example of incorporating technology for military uses so we don't have to reinvent the wheel," he said.

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