When PIG(A)s fly

July 27, 2020 in Defense, Technology

While pigs may still not be able to fly, it turns out that PIGAs – which is short for the pendulous integrating gyroscopic accelerometers found aboard weapon systems such as the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) – can; but the conditions need to be just right.

It seems obvious why navigation and guidance systems on nuclear-capable platforms like the Minuteman, aircraft and submarines need to work absolutely perfectly – to keep them on track and on target when the stakes are the highest. But what’s less obvious is how this is done.

This type of specialized work requires the utmost attention to detail and precision tuning to the smallest system components under perfect test conditions.

That’s where the Boeing Guidance Repair Center (BGRC) – the second largest metrology center in all of Boeing and the company’s Center of Excellence for maintenance, repair and overhaul of navigation and guidance systems – shines.

A geologic “sweet spot”

The foundation of why the BGRC, located in Heath, Ohio, is so well suited for navigation and guidance system work is the near unequalled level of geological stability its location provides. In fact, outside of Cheyenne Mountain in central Colorado, the site is located on the most geologically stable point in the United States.

According to site leader Mike Murasky, the BGRC, which lies “out in the cornfields” of Ohio's Licking County, is rarely impacted by earthquakes or tremors on account of it being situated on a geologic “sweet spot” of sorts – the location is absent of major fault lines and any significant seismic activity caused by shifting tectonic plates.

“The geological stability of our site matters as our calibrations must be precise. That’s absolutely critical when you’re dealing with keeping a nuclear weapon headed in the right direction. Because of our location, nothing can throw off or interfere with our measurements and instrumentation,” said Murasky.

Stellar facilities

The second differentiator is provided by the BGRC’s literally stellar facilities – namely its onsite observatory.

The observatory captures the location of the North Star between 12 to 16 times each month. This location is used as an exact point of reference when laser-calibrating navigation and guidance systems, allowing ICBMs, aircraft and submarines to determine their exact location and orientation anywhere in the world at any given moment.

In other words, these Boeing-built systems actually set their course by the stars – enabling them to find their way without fail by sensing the slightest rotation, orientation, degree of flatness and alignment with unparalleled precision.

“When you combine our unique facilities and geological stability with the knowledge base we have here and our artisan workforce, the BGRC is the best place anywhere for this type of work,” said Murasky. “And we’re always looking to improve what we do.”

The BGRC has maintained the readiness and accuracy of guidance and navigation systems for U.S. nuclear and non-capable platforms since 1996.