Boeing Frontiers
July 2003
Volume 02, Issue 03
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Tech Talk

Taking out the heavy lifting


slipper palletHow do you move cargo in and out of mobility assets such as C-17s faster and more efficiently? Simultaneously, how do you eliminate the use of pre-positioned, ground-based heavy material handling equipment such as forklifts and cranes, and the extra crewmembers and transporters needed to handle them?

A package of innovative solutions that a rapid prototyping team at the Boeing Integrated Defense Systems Advanced Airlift and Tankers group in Long Beach, Calif., is devising contains the answer.

The Advanced Mobility Interface Systems team has been developing cargo-handling solutions for loads to be transferred among aircraft, trucks and ships (inter-modal), and from strategic to theater airlift assets (intra-modal).

Current methods require the extensive use of heavy equipment, such as forklifts and cranes. Workers have to pre-position this equipment at the on- and off-loading sites, and it can present significant logistical problems. The new systems under development by the AMIS team require minimal material handling and fewer logistics people to perform the same on- and off-load tasks. That results in more rapid and agile operations.

"There is such heavy reliance on material-handling equipment," said Tom Gurbach, Boeing IDS director, Advanced Airlift and Tankers. "Our AMIS team is tackling it head-on; we are making great strides toward freeing our customers from these interface impediments."

The project that originally brought together the AMIS team was the Slipper I, which employees developed with the backing of the Chairman's Innovation Initiative. The U.S. Army later renamed the system the CROP Aircraft Interface Kit. It allows warfighters to transfer container roll-in/roll-out platforms directly between U.S. Army trucks and U.S. Air Force transport aircraft such as C-130s and C-17s, with minimal or no additional material-handling equipment.

How it works

Currently, the crews mate the container rollout platforms to aluminum aircraft pallets and chain them down, and then a "K-loader" lifts them onto the C-17. Then the crew has to push the load into the aircraft.

The configuration has to use the center "air drop" rail system of the C-17, an inefficient method that allows stowage of only three platforms per C-17. Use of the triple-married pallets requires considerable pallet build-up time. Moreover, warfighters needed an extra transport aircraft to fly in the cranes and forklifts required to do the job at the destination.

When unloading with the use of these new technologies, Army vehicles on the ground vehicle can lift the container rollout platform from the C-17's cargo ramp, or the aircraft can offload the platform directly to the ground. The slipper pallet is designed to fit onto the logistics rails of the C-17 cargo bay, which allows each aircraft to carry up to eight of the platforms, weight permitting.

Operationally, teams can treat slipper pallets like an accessory to the container rollout platform and transport them together. Twist locks and built-in notches and rollers allow easy handling. Two people can attach or stow each slipper.

Thanks to the Slipper I, the U.S. Army can now load a container rollout platform (with slipper pallets attached to each end) directly onto the C-17 from a primary truck, the palletized loading system vehicle, without the need for ground-based material-handling equipment.

Slipper I was also the first CII project to transition to a business unit (Airlift and Tankers). The Slipper I effort, and other cargo-handling initiatives the AMIS team is pursuing, are indicative of Boeing's commitment to providing system-level solutions for the mobility community.

"We are not just interested in selling platforms. We are focused on solving transportation challenges for our mobility customers," said Howard Chambers, Boeing IDS vice president and general manager, Airlift and Tankers.

Recently, the AMIS team successfully demonstrated the Enhanced Distribution System-Air prototype. The U.S. Army TACOM-ARDEC (Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command-Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center) office sponsored the EDS-A, a logistics platform interoperable with Army palletized loading system trucks and U.S. Air Force C-130s and C-17s.

The Boeing EDS-A prototype has met all requirements and has gone from concept to 3-D solid-model to hardware in only 35 days. Doug Chesnulovitch, TACOM-ARDEC EDS-A program manager, said, "[EDS-A] will facilitate an uninterrupted battle tempo for the warfighters by significantly reducing time and resource usage and greatly enhancing the flexibility and agility of the supply chain."

Follow-on efforts will develop a second-generation concept that will be four-modes capable (land, sea, air, airdrop/ sling lift) and compatible with the Theater Support Vessel. In June, the AMIS team received a sole-source $3.3 million contract to design, manufacture and install a new Theater Support Vessel cargo-handling system prototype that will provide the U.S. Army with a capability similar to the C-17 cargo floor.


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