WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Amidst its latest efforts to cut costs and prevent injuries to Airmen around the globe, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Junior Force Warfighter Operations team has a new project.
Their target? A piece of aircraft support equipment known around the force as the ‘milk stool.’
The team, known collectively as JFWORX, is a group of volunteer scientists and engineers from various disciplines around the lab working together to create rapid solutions for near-term warfighter needs.
The milk stool is a wooden support placed under the rear loading ramp of a C-130 aircraft for stability during heavy loading operations. Without it, a heavy load on the loading ramp can cause the front of the plane to lift off the ground, like a see-saw.
The stool must support up to 72,000 pounds and act as a structural support point under the ramp to keep the aircraft safe and stable during loading.
Senior Master Sgt. Duane Meske of the Air Force Special Operations Command is a loadmaster at Hurlburt Field, Florida. Meske contacted the Air Force Research Laboratory for assistance in developing a lightweight milk stool and was directed toward JFWORX, due to their experience solving similar problems for the warfighter.
“Having access to an organization that can rapidly research, develop, and test a new product that will assist the warfighter is indispensable.” Meske said.
The current milk stool weighs approximately 85 pounds and requires two people to move and position under the loading ramp. C-130s only have one loadmaster onboard, so finding another person to safely transport the milk stool causes time delays or forces the loadmaster to move the milk stool alone, at great risk.
Due to the large and awkward size, the stool is very cumbersome and difficult to move around items that have already been loaded onto the plane.
In 2011, a group of Air Force Academy cadets attempted to design a lightweight stool. However, due to unmet requirements, the design didn’t successfully make the transition from prototype to product but the cadets’ work has been extremely useful to the JFWORX team.
The JFWORX team chose aluminum tubing and plates as the main structural members of the new stool because of its many benefits including, strength, low cost, and corrosion resistance.
Aluminum’s widespread availability also contributed to the decision for material use since the team’s goal is to have any well-equipped base backshops in the world able to repair or replace the new design. This is in use for the current wooden milk stool.
The materials for the new milk stool cost approximately $125, which is a slight increase over approximately $75 for the legacy design. Since the new milk stool weighs approximately 30 pounds, this cost will easily be offset by the fuel savings from the decrease in weight.
Those annual savings equate to approximately $375,000 for the Air Force and up to $1.7 million if the new milk stool is adopted across the entire C-130 fleet.
Several partners assisted in the stool redesign, construction and testing, including AFRL’s Systems Support Division, Center for Rapid Innovation and the Wright Brothers Institute.
Design, welding, stress relieving, weld inspection, load testing, and modeling and simulation were all accomplished through various team members in the laboratory.
Five prototypes have been constructed thus far, each one iteratively building on the advances in design and construction from the previous one. This has allowed the team to rapidly improve the design and quickly surpass customer requirements, taking three months to build and test five prototypes.
“Increasing my knowledge in other areas like welding and weld inspection, as well as providing a solution to a long-standing Air Force problem is very satisfying,” said J.D. Bales, mechanical engineer and member of the JFWORX team. “Working with all the disparate team members and utilizing their expertise has been a rewarding experience.”
Christopher Falkowski, facilities engineer and JFWORX member, said the group is creating a patent application for their stool design.
“It’s gratifying to know that you are saving the Defense Department money and preventing injury to warfighters,” he said.
JFWORX projects are managed entirely by its members, who are military and civilian employees of the lab. Their projects are geared toward solving problems that directly affect the warfighter.
The current design will be delivered to Hurlburt Field after load testing is completed within the next month. Meske and his crew will coordinate further testing in the field and continue to work with JFWORX on any modifications that are needed.
Production for the new milk stool could be in place as early as 2019.
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Junior Force Warfighter Operations in RX, or JFWORX, develops near term, innovative solutions to warfighter operational needs. Department of Defense organizations interested in working with the JFWORX team can contact the AFRL/RX Corporate Communications team at AFRL.RX.CorpComm@us.af.mil to learn more.