Innovation Propels Lighter Helicopter

Brian Kaplun, Lockheed Martin engineer
Lockheed Martin engineer, Brian Kaplun, shows off the first-ever nano-composite avionics unit, the Remote Processor Unit (RPU).

Anything that flies has an inherent weight problem. Airplanes are designed to be as lightweight as possible, so they can maximize their mission – be it armaments or people – while still being capable of taking off and maneuvering.

This challenge is magnified for helicopters. The engine must lift the aircraft and its cargo vertically, making it advantageous to reduce the weight of the airframe and mission equipment and leave room for greater payload capacity. To mitigate this issue, Lockheed Martin engineer, Brian Kaplun, led one of Lockheed Martin’s mechanical design teams in developing the first-ever Lockheed Martin nano-composite avionics unit, the Remote Processor Unit (RPU). This new design and material set reduces the weight of the processor unit on the aircraft.


“There is always a benefit to making things lighter, and the ability to reduce cost is an added bonus,” Kaplun said. “Removing weight from the electronics affords more room for mission equipment, such as armaments and fuel.”

By using an in
jection-molded polymer instead of aluminum, Kaplun’s team has reduced the weight of electronics units by an average of 40 percent and manufacturing costs by 50 percent. This technology can be offered for legacy platform retrofits, as well as aircraft currently in development.

Originally developed and produced by Lockheed Martin's aeronautics division, the proprietary polymer gives Lockheed Martin a cost and weight advantage over companies using aluminum for these types of applications.

“When we looked at areas this could be useful for at a company technology summit, we focused on carbon nano-structure reinforced composites,” Kaplun said. “We pitched the idea to Lockheed Martin Corporate Engineering, Technology and Operations in 2010 through the Innovate the Future Contest, which provided the initial investment for the development of the RPU.” 

Kaplun worked alongside Lockheed Martin Fellow, David Vos, and Aeronautics materials scientists, Clint Newell and Tara Thomasson. Kaplun credits his teammates for developing the material, which Kaplun and Vos then used to design a processor box that would allow Lockheed Martin to take advantage of its combined benefits of manufacturing versatility, as well as cost and weight reduction. Kaplun designed the chassis, supervised the manufacture of the nano-composite components, and worked with the fabricator to produce the first injected-molded unit, overcoming some serious technical challenges in the process.