Tag Archives: Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL)

Halvorsen aircraft loader

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is leading a Department of the Air Force effort to develop and test a diesel-electric mobility aircraft cargo loader, the hybrid Halvorsen prototype.

Halvorsen aircraft loader
Master Sergeant Ryan Young, lead Halvorsen mechanic, 441st Vehicle Support Chain Operations Squadron, signals acceptance of the Hybrid Halvorsen prototype design, operational performance and charging interface

Airlift and flightline cargo loading are critical for military operations and worldwide humanitarian missions. For successful operations and missions, a strong cargo supply backbone is a necessity. Mobility aircraft cargo loading generally relies on two worldwide deployable flightline weapon system vehicles, the Tunner 60K and the Halvorsen 25K.

Presently, continuously running diesel engines power the USAF’s primary aircraft loaders. However, the worldwide environment is changing, and a small USAF Vehicle Loader Team has been preparing for a more electrified future. This team recently completed the hybrid Halvorsen prototype and obtained operator and maintainer feedback at Air Mobility Command’s Dover and Joint Base Charleston Aerial Ports.

The hybrid Halvorsen prototype is an AFRL-led effort that includes the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Energy, Installations and Environment; Headquarters (HQs), Air Mobility Command’s A4 Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection Directorate; the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Agile Combat Support Program Executive Office; the 441st Vehicle Support Chain Operations Squadron at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia; and industry partners Concurrent Technologies Corporations and SAFT.

Chief Master Sergeant Troy Saunders, now retired USAF vehicle career fleet manager, launched the initiative for the Halvorsen prototype. He envisioned the best future flightline vehicles would be electric and the USAF need to start preparing for that future. The Future Force Energy and Power Office at AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate took the lead to organize the team, develop the prototype and obtain maintainer and operator feedback in order to draft technical specifications for the next generation aircraft loader acquisition.

«This was a game-changing proof of concept that links a strong history of diesel-based global power projection with new electrification technologies … it revolutionizes the future vision for flightline vehicle and weapon systems capabilities», said Chief Master Sergeant Patrick Kelleher, USAF vehicle fleet manager with 441st Vehicle Support Chain Operations Squadron (VSCOS).

«We wanted to put this prototype in the hands of the mechanics and drivers to get their feedback – they liked it and they were impressed – more than I anticipated», said Tim Clear, Halvorsen weapon system manager at HQ Air Mobility Command. «It proved that the electric-based performance was as good as or better than the diesel-based performance».

While Dover and Charleston evaluation teams had favorable reviews of the hybrid Halvorsen’s performance, the USAF is working technical details that are still under evaluation.

«Battery capacity, charging times and modernization strategy are still concerns that we need to work through», Clear explained. «But after seeing the results of this project, a more electric aircraft loader could be in our future».

Prototype projects like the hybrid Halvorsen are critical to leading change and transformation for future endeavors.

«The development of the hybrid Halvorsen loader prototype and successful operational evaluations were valuable», said Rob Woodruff, a lead engineer from the program office at Robins Air Force Base (AFB). «The electric drive provides significantly less noise during driving, loading and lifting operations, and enables a reduction in fossil fuel usage. We will use this learning as we modernize our vehicle fleet».

Tom Layne, AFRL project lead, said programs such as this encourage leaders to consider the future force.

«Projects like this allow our enterprise leaders at all levels to come together, work through challenges, make decisions and critically evaluate the hits and misses … mechanics are just as critical as engineers in these projects», Layne said. «These leaders go back to their organizations, interact with their colleagues … The intellectual power multiplies as well as the acceptance of new technology».

«One of the most critical decisions we made together was to integrate the SAE J1772 Interface Standard for vehicle and equipment battery charging commonality and interoperability on the flightline», Layne added. «We believe this will have a very large impact on our defense and national aviation infrastructure and industry».

Adversary Air

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Aerospace Systems Directorate has awarded a Small Business Innovation Research contract to Blue Force Technologies to develop an unmanned air vehicle that supports adversary air (ADAIR) training missions. The Bandit program contract was awarded as the result of a Strategic Financing (STRATFI) proposal selected by AFWERX with a $9 million initial value and options to complete the design and build of up to four air vehicles.

A newly awarded Air Force Research Laboratory Small Business Innovation Research contract will develop an unmanned air vehicle design that supports adversary air (ADAIR) training missions for pilots of Air Force fighter aircraft (Courtesy illustration/Blue Force Technologies)

Under the Bandit program, Blue Force Technologies, a small aerospace and defense company based in North Carolina, will mature a high-performance unmanned air vehicle design that pilots of Air Force fighter aircraft can use to train against. The air vehicle is a part of a proposed autonomy-based system providing adversary air training for Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fighter crews at greatly reduced costs compared to current manned capabilities.

The 12-month effort will mature the vehicle design to critical design level, perform engine ground testing and validate the design of the engine installation under the technical guidance of AFRL subject matter experts. Options under this contract, if exercised, will complete the design and engineering tasks, produce up to four air vehicles and complete initial flight testing.

Alyson Turri, the AFRL Bandit program manager, said «these small unmanned ADAIR systems can be flown in training scenarios so that fighter pilots can train against tactically relevant adversaries in threat representative numbers. The goal is to develop an unmanned platform that looks like a fifth-generation adversary with similar vehicle capabilities».

The Bandit program aims to provide an air vehicle solution for the unmanned ADAIR capability which, when integrated with autonomy, mission payloads and sensors, will revolutionize the adversary air training mission and provide key opportunities for pilots to interact with the unmanned systems in a training environment.

SBIR work with Blue Force Technologies began in 2019 and covered the initial requirements development, vehicle design, analysis and build of a structural test article supporting unmanned ADAIR.

AFRL is coordinating the Bandit program with Air Combat Command and has aligned the vehicle development effort in support of the unmanned ADAIR capability. ACC Commander Gen. Mark Kelly addressed the need for alternate approaches to costly adversary air sorties at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Life Cycle Industry Days in August 2021.

Navigation Technology

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is excited to announce that the Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3) satellite navigation program is closer in the development of the spacecraft for its in-space demonstration, thanks to the delivery of its bus that will carry it to space in 2023.

Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3)
The ESPAStar-D bus that will be integrated into the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Navigation Technology Satellite-3. The bus, which will serve as the body of spacecraft, was built at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Gilbert, Arizona. NTS-3 is scheduled for launch in 2023 (Courtesy photo/Northrop Grumman)

In 2019, the U.S. Air Force designated NTS-3 as one of three Vanguard programs, which are priority initiatives to deliver new, game-changing capabilities for national defense. The NTS-3 mission is to advance technologies to responsively mitigate interference to Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) capabilities, and increase system resiliency for the U.S. Space Force’s Global Positioning System military, civil and commercial users.

Northrop Grumman Corporation recently delivered an ESPAStar-D spacecraft bus to L3Harris Technologies of Palm Bay, Florida in support of the NTS-3 mission scheduled to launch to geosynchronous orbit from Cape Canaveral in 2023.

The AFRL Transformational Capabilities Office at Wright-Patterson AFB and Space Vehicles Directorate, located at Kirtland Air Force Base (AFB) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, are in partnership with the two industry companies for the bus development and integration.

«This is the first time an ESPAStar bus has been built and delivered as a commercially-available commodity», said Arlen Biersgreen, the NTS-3 program manager. «NTS-3 is using a unique acquisition model for the ESPAStar line that fully exercises the commercial nature of Northrop Grumman’s product line, in order to provide the bus to another defense contractor for payload integration using standard interfaces».

The ESPAStar-D bus, built in Northrop Grumman’s satellite manufacturing facility in Gilbert, Arizona, includes critical subsystems such as communications, power, attitude determination and control, in addition to configurable structures to mount payloads.

A June 2021 press release from Northrop Grumman explains the company built the ESPAStar-D bus «to provide affordable, rapid access to space», and that its configuration, using an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA), allows multiple separate experimental payloads to be stacked together on one launch vehicle.

It should be noted that AFRL developed the ESPA ring – a technology that revolutionized the transport of space experiments, allowing for lower-cost and more frequent «rides» to space, for government and industry users.

«The transfer of the bus allows L3Harris to move forward building the NTS-3 spacecraft», said 2nd Lt. Charles Schramka, the program’s deputy principal investigator. «L3Harris will perform tests and begin integrating the NTS-3 PNT payload onto the bus. Together the bus and payload will form the NTS-3 spacecraft».

Following L3Harris’s work, AFRL will test the bus with the NTS-3 ground control and user equipment segments, and will perform its own integrated testing on the overall NTS-3 system architecture.

Besides the bus delivery, there are other advances in the program.

Schramka said, «This month we took delivery of an experimental receiver known as Global Navigation Satellite System Test Architecture (GNSSTA), developed by our sister AFRL unit, the Sensors Directorate at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio and Mitre Corporation. GNSSTA is a reprogrammable software defined signal receiver that allows us to receive the legacy GPS and advanced signals generated by NTS-3».

AFRL will continue its integration efforts through 2022 to ensure all parts are working together for the fall of 2023 NTS-3 launch.

«With the delivery of the bus we are entering into the next phase of payload integration», Biersgreen said. «These recent breakthroughs allow the program to continue to move forward and prepare for launch of the first U.S. integrated satellite navigation experiment in over 45 years».