When Scaled Composites, LLC, was hired to test a new aerial launch program, they needed to develop an efficient method to clean up the material they dropped over the dry lakebed where they were conducting the tests. As part of their arrangement with the park area people who use the area must return the environment to its natural state. Using a davit crane generally used as a floor-mounted piece of equipment, the ground crew at Scaled was able to modify their flatbed truck and the crane's base, which made hoisting the payload debris onto the truck for removal much more efficient.
Located 80 miles north of Los Angeles, in Mojave, Calif., Scaled Composites is one of the world leaders in innovative aerospace design and technology. Specializing in air vehicle design, tooling, manufacturing, composite structure design, analysis and fabrication, Scaled's main area of focus lies in research and development of composites. A large part of the work they do is currently geared toward developing new manufacturing techniques that will be vital to future aerospace success. In addition, new materials and processes are being tested on a regular basis, including the recent aerial launch project.
The project consisted of releasing a "mock" rocket at an altitude of 10,000 feet, simulating the launch of a space rocket from an aircraft. The aerial launch project was performed to collect data on finding the proper pitch for successful launches into space. In theory, the rocket would fire after the aircraft had released it and peeled off to one side. The premise being that an air launch system uses less fuel and positions the rocket in alignment with its final orbit. Less fuel means that a launch costs less money, is more efficient, and can lead to more frequent missions to space.
Creative and functioning design is what Scaled does best and that translates to all of their departments including the ground support crew. "Everybody who works here wears so many different hats," says Robert Storch, ground support mechanic at Scaled. "We all have our day-to-day tasks, but as a company that is constantly looking to advance technology, we often find ourselves exploring new and better ways to do things."
A normal day for Storch and his ground crew consists of maintaining the 10 vehicles used for ground support. This means regular oil changes, checking for cracks and faulty hardware on the aircraft and making sure all the start carts are operational (start carts are equipped with generators and are used to power-up the aircraft as opposed to running up the engines). However, when Scaled is hired to run special projects and perform flight tests, this day-to-day maintenance work turns into project preparation and execution for the ground support team.
For the air launch system being tested, the ground crew needed to develop an efficient way to clean up heavy debris dropped from the aircraft onto the Mojave lakebed. The debris in fact is the payload attached to the aircraft being tested. And, weighing roughly 2,000 pounds, it’s not a task that can be accomplished without some sort of equipment. In order to make their job easier for the project, the ground crew used a flatbed truck, a davit crane manufactured by Thern Inc., and developed a modified base that could easily hoist the 2,000-pound material onto the back of the truck without causing any structural damage to the vehicle. "The crane worked well for the lifting application we needed for this project," Storch says. "We did have to make some modifications at the beginning because the davit is in fact manufactured as a plant floor crane instead of a truck-mounted crane."
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