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Feature Story

Ret.  U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Louis “Lou” Johnsick, now a Boeing consultant

Marc Selinger/Boeing

Ret. U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Louis “Lou” Johnsick, now a Boeing consultant, demonstrates the command station virtual trainer that Boeing and shipbuilder Marinette Marine Corp. have developed for the Navy’s Ship to Shore Connector (SSC) air cushion vehicle program. The big screen, top right, shows the SSC craft leaving the well deck of a ship at sea.

Ship to Shore Connector: A better ride to the beach

An artist’s rendering of the Marinette/Boeing Ship to Shore Connector.

Marinette Marine Corp. and Boeing

An artist’s rendering of the Marinette/Boeing Ship to Shore Connector.

The sky is pitch-black, rain is falling in sheets, and ocean waves are pounding against a group of landing craft operated by U.S. Navy sailors. The "amphibious" crews are trying to transport U.S. Marines and their M1A2 Abrams tanks from a large ship at sea to the shore of a war zone.

In their old Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) vehicles, the Navy crews may have had to adjust their mission planning to account for the rough seas. But in their new Ship to Shore Connector (SSC) air cushion vehicles, they plow ahead, confident that the more capable SSCs will safely deliver the Marines to their destination.

That is the kind of improvement envisioned with the Navy’s Ship to Shore Connector program, said Ret. Chief Petty Officer Louis "Lou" Johnsick, who piloted the propeller-driven LCACs for six of his 24 years in the service. The Navy plans to replace its LCACs, which are reaching the end of their service life, with 72 next-generation air cushion vehicles, and it is expected to select a winner of the SSC detail design and construction competition in September.

"And for the Marines, SSC will allow them to move more quickly and in higher-wave environments, greatly improving their chances of mission success."

"The Ship to Shore Connector will make it easier for Navy landing craft crews to deliver troops and equipment when and where they need to go," said Johnsick, now a Boeing consultant. "And for the Marines, SSC will allow them to move more quickly and in higher-wave environments, greatly improving their chances of mission success."

An artist’s rendering of the Marinette/Boeing Ship to Shore Connector.

Marinette Marine Corp. and Boeing

An artist’s rendering of the Marinette/Boeing Ship to Shore Connector.

Boeing, a pioneer in advanced rotorcraft technology and systems integration, has teamed with Marinette Marine Corp., a worldwide leader in ship design and construction, to bid for the SSC contract. Boeing would apply proven rotorcraft technology, including propulsion and lift systems, to SSC. The company has built thousands of rotorcraft for U.S. and allied armed forces, including AH-64 Apache and CH-47 helicopters for the U.S. Army and CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters and V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transports for the U.S. Marine Corps.

The SSC, which flies on a cushion of air six feet above water or land, will provide a wide range of benefits over the LCAC, including more powerful engines, increased reliability, greater resistance to corrosion, advanced navigation and engineering control systems, and more payload to transport troops and equipment from ships to shore. It will use increased automation and advanced human-system interface design concepts to shrink a craft’s command station crew size from three people to a two-person pilot/copilot cockpit.

The SSC design has been compared to a helicopter flying upside down. Lift fans located on the main deck force high-volume air underneath the vehicle to elevate it, while two rear propellers and two forward-mounted bow thrusters provide propulsion and maneuverability.

"We can create a virtual craft and provide the tools that allow an entire crew to work together to build up their skills collectively."

"SSC is really a combination kind of program," said Richard McCreary, Marinette’s president, CEO and general manager. "It is certainly a shipbuilding program in that, yes, it can float. But in effect, it flies over the water. And the same rotorcraft and human-system interface technologies that Boeing uses in the Apache, in the Chinook and so on is directly transferable to the Ship to Shore Connector program. And of course all of those technologies are already fielded and proven with great reliability."

Boeing also brings extensive virtual-training experience to the proposal. At the Surface Navy Association conference in Arlington, Va., in mid-January, Boeing displayed a pilot/co-pilot command station demonstrator that shows how SSC crew members would be able to practice operating the craft in simulated but realistic conditions, including choppy ocean waves and the darkness of night.

"We can create a virtual craft and provide the tools that allow an entire crew to work together to build up their skills collectively," said Larry Nakamura, systems engineer for Boeing Training Systems in Mesa, Ariz. "Right now, that capability doesn’t exist other than going out to the real craft, which takes away a very valuable asset from combat missions. So the demonstrator will allow Navy crews to train without impairing the fleet’s operational availability."

Other teammates include Griffon Hoverwork, a trailblazer in hovercraft technology, and Oceaneering, which holds the current service life extension contract for LCAC.

For more information on SSC, visit http://www.ship2shoreconnector.com/.