JB Charleston test new equipment, saves AF millions

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Thomas T. Charlton
  • Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

An operational evaluation of new synthetic tie downs and winch cables for the C-17 Globemaster III took place here in November 2016. 
Tie downs are ropes, cords, straps or chains that secure items during airlift operations; winch cables help adjust the tension on tie downs, securing the load.

These prototypes were designed to help reduce aircraft gross weight, which increases aircraft fuel efficiency and saves money.

“The new tiedowns and winch cables will reduce the weight by nearly 1,000 pounds on each C-17 (Globemaster III),” said Capt. Randall Hodkin, the Air Force Research Labratory aviation project manager stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. “After doing some math with Boeing, we’ve come to the conclusion, the new equipment would save the Air Force approximately $4 million annually.”

The idea for the new synthetic equipment was approved Sept. 16, 2015, and is scheduled to be completed by early 2017.

“This idea was submitted by Boeing and gained a lot of interest,” Hodkin said. “We awarded them the contract, they worked the initial design and presented it to us for assessment. After our recommendations, they created three design variations and the best solution was chosen for demonstration at Joint Base Charleston.” 

The effort, managed by the AFRL's Advanced Power Technology Office, used expertise from the Air Transportability Test Loading Activity, Air Mobility Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, Joint Base Charleston, Robins AFB, Georgia, Boeing and cable designer Samson Rope during the demonstration to provide assistance and offer feedback.

“I think choosing Joint Base Charleston for this demonstration speaks for itself,” said Master Sgt. Brandon Lenz, the AMC C-17 command evaluator loadmaster stationed at Scott AFB, Illinois. “We were able to receive a lot of data points from the demonstration which will allow us to improve these devices even further.”

The 437th Maintenance Group, 437th Operations Group and the 437th Aerial Port Squadron also supported the research team during the evaluation.

“Going down there I didn’t know what to expect,” Hodkin said. “When we arrived, the enthusiasm and accommodating attitude we received was beyond helpful. The loadmasters and aerial port members were very cooperative and recommended quite a few extra test points for us to look at. I would say the best thing that came out of this was the support they gave us.” 

The new prototypes also provide additional safety. If the current tie downs and winch cables break, they snap and lash around the cargo bay, possibly damaging or harming people, equipment, and the interior of the aircraft. The new synthetics would minimize velocity and damage if breaking was to occur.

“While my office is responsible for fuel saving, we were also able to develop a safer product allowing the C-17 more operational capabilities,” Hodkin said. “By increasing fuel efficiency, the C-17 is able to perform more tasks than it was originally able to.” 

Lenz said the synthetic tie downs will eventually be usable for all cargo aircraft. However, the winch cable will remain specific to the C-17. Both items were proved operationally successful and are waiting for all data and questionnaires to be completed for final approval.

“So long as the idea makes the budget cutline, it will move forward,” Hodkin said. “If they are approved and pushed forward, the synthetic tie downs and winch cables will eventually fully replace the current tie downs and winch cables.”