Rotor & Wing International

Stovepipes and Big Data

Straight from the Editor-in-Chief's notebook.

As the calendar turned to 2017, we in the Washington D.C. suburban offices of R&WI found ourselves at the start of an interesting and prolonged conversation.

In an informal tag-up in my office with Managing Editor Amy Kluber and Assistant Editor S.L. Fuller, I used the term “stovepipe,” referencing an obstacle within another organization. I was confronted with puzzled looks that seemed to ask, “Is he speaking German?”

I explained the term, its synonym “silo” and a summary of their origins. This provoked some pointed but good-natured ribbing of whether a stovepipe topped the device that heated the home or workplace of my youth (and, given the time of year, whether I ever dared ask the Old Man for permission to add a fourth coal to the fire).

Now these two editors are highly capable, confident, smart and sharp-witted. I found it impossible to believe that their unfamiliarity with these synonymous terms, so common in management circles and aerospace, marked some kind of previously undetected intellectual shortfall. I hadn’t suspected the terms were falling out of use.

Needless to say, I kept the conversation going with intermittent references to the terms, spurred by the memory of that pointed ribbing.

In a meeting, our assistant editor observed that another publication within our company had published an article on news developments related to a U.S. military program we closely follow: Future Vertical Lift.

“Why,” she wondered aloud, “had the publication’s writer and editor not given us a heads-up before the article was published?”

Ah! Learning had occurred. A colleague had walked smack into a stovepipe and revealed for the rest of us an everyday example.

Our editors may have tired of the topic, but it kept confronting me. Reporting on this month’s article on engine tech, I spoke with OEM leaders who revealed parallel, independent pursuits of “big data” to improve analysis and prognostics for engine operations and maintenance. Others spoke of skepticism among smaller operators about whether such data collection will be worth their time, money and effort.

Coincidentally, a CHC S-92 made an emergency landing on an offshore rig near Scotland that prompted an alert bulletin by Sikorsky and an emergency airworthiness directive by the FAA. Within that information was the point that the operator’s health and usage monitoring system caught a hint of trouble in the helicopter’s tail rotor control system. But that data was not analyzed until after the emergency landing.

This recalled news of May 2016, when the main-rotor failure of a CHC Airbus Helicopters EC225. Much data is collected from such aircraft, but was not shared between the operator and the manufacturer. We have great interest in greater utilization of operational data and enhancing the safety of flights. The topic will be a focus at our Rotorcraft Business and Technology Summit in Fort Worth. It seems imperative that discussions of big data address the organizational and cultural impediments to its effective use. R&WI