Modular ramp makes aircraft loading an easy lift

Innovative design eliminates potential hazards and increases efficiency in setup.

July 07, 2021 in Defense, Innovation

Typically it’s good — even encouraged — to work through an issue, one step at a time. But when the problem is a cumbersome 600-plus-pound aircraft loading ramp made up of stacked lumber arranged like steps, the “stairs” are the last thing one wants to take, according to Troy Brunty, mechanical systems design engineer. 

Brunty and Dave Holman are responsible for designing and maintaining the Ground-based Midcourse Defense, or GMD, transportation and handling equipment, and ensure the equipment is safe and efficient for employees to use. The ramp was brought to their attention as an issue, so they went to work to design a new one.

The ramp, which was being used in Fort Greely, Alaska, to load and unload tractor trailers from a C-17 Globemaster III, took an average of 40 minutes for four to five employees with a forklift to set up. “We needed to eliminate the use of a forklift close to the C-17,” Brunty said. “Using a forklift to carry large, heavy and ungainly objects presented a potential hazard to personnel, especially when operating under the winter conditions we experience here.” 

Brunty and Holman investigated material options, consulted stress and safety analysis data, and worked directly with the community of users — eventually landing on a modular design that would no longer require a forklift and would keep each segment of the ramp under the single-person carry limit.

“The new ramps provide a continuous and level transition between the ground and the aircraft floor, making for smoother backing operations,” Brunty said. The new ramps also save time and take only 10 minutes to set up — which Brunty said was a “happy accident” that came from making the safety improvement. 

“This is now an innovation that is applicable across the enterprise, anywhere loading vehicles are needed for loading ramps, airplanes, et cetera,” said Cris Chalmers, safety, quality and mission assurance program manager for GMD.

Brunty said the thing he loves most about these projects is the camaraderie with the various business partners they work with along the way. “A lot of the people we build this equipment for are the same people we have been working with for years,” he said. “Everyone I talk to wants to be a part of the process, so when you ask them to participate they come back with their best effort every time.” 

Engineers Troy Brunty (left) and Dave Holman designed a new, modular aircraft loading ramp that eliminates the need for a forklift and keeps each segment of the ramp under the single-person carry limit.

Troy Brunty