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Gas Guzzler
Mike Maxey and his crew at Fort Eustis get a lot of interesting requests. Sometimes it's a request to replicate an Iraqi village, or someone wants a full-size pick-up truck that can be folded up, carried from place to place, and literally blown up into smithereens.

Recently, a request came in to build a helicopter. The U.S. Army’s Quartermaster School, Petroleum and Water Department at Fort Lee was looking for a mockup upon which to practice fueling and de-fueling a UH-60 helicopter.

UH-60 helicopter printed life-size

Maxey quickly realized that building a full-size, three-dimensional mockup would be prohibitively expensive. However, their recently-acquired ColorSpan UV-curable flatbed printers (a 72UVR and 72UVX) might just do the trick.

Maxey proposed printing a life-size replica of the helicopter. After doing some tests on a number of rigid materials, they settled on Laminators Inc.’s Alumalite, primarily because its aluminum skin would not contract or expand in changing weather.

“We coordinated this project in three basic pieces – a steel frame built out of 2x4 and 2x6 steel tubing and bolted together with about 1,100 bolts, the concrete slab that the frame is attached to, and the graphic panels, which are mounted to the steel frame,” explains Maxey.

Is it real, or is it Memorex?

Fortunately, there was a UH-60 readily available, and it was photographed in about 12 pieces. These were stitched together in Photoshop, and prepared for printing through their Onyx RIP. The result was a file size around 500 MB.

With a final installation size of 18 ft. x 68 ft., the RIP broke that down into 51 printed panels, most of which were 4 ft. x 8 ft. Each panel would be bolted to the steel framework with self-tapping screws.

Maxey says the project was printed almost continuously during business hours for three days. They devoted the printer to the helicopter during those three days, made sure the ink tanks were full, and did not re-RIP or manipulate the file in any way to ensure consistency from beginning to end.

Once the panels were installed, they took a fuel port from a helicopter and attached it to the corresponding printed panel so that the petroleum crew could funnel fuel into the port as they would in a real situation (see photo below).

Practice fuel port

They also placed a Lexan panel around the real fuel port to protect the surrounding graphic from spilled fuel. Maxey reports that they tested the durability of the inks against petroleum and found that they would hold up fine, but they figured that repeated spills might take their toll, so it was better safe than sorry.

Other uses of their flatbed printer, as alluded to at the beginning of this article, are printed vinyl scenes that can be easily changed in and out to help train soldiers for different types of patrol situations, plus portable targets of all shapes and sizes printed on Coroplast.

Volume 1  -  No. 10

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