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Useful fleet technology is battle cry at Air Force lab.

The proliferation of paperwork in the cockpit can be a nuisance for military pilots. Air Force aviators returning from Afghanistan in recent months, for example, have complained that there are too many pieces of paper--checklists, work orders and maps--that they must carry during missions.

The solution may come in the form of a "digital kneeboard"--a handheld computer where the information from all these pieces of paper can be stored electronically, said Col. Stephen J. Duresky, commander of the Air Force Air Expeditionary Force Battlelab, in Mountain Home, Idaho.

The battlelab, an organization created to find practical, common-sense technologies for the fleet, is starting a program called PacMan (Pilot-Aircrew Cockpit Management).

"This project could be very exciting," Duresky told National Defense. "It would be taking a lot of the paperwork out of the cockpit." This concept "makes total sense for a pilot. ... A Palm Pilot that sits on your knee."

During the next two years, the Air Expeditionary Force and Air- Mobility battlelabs will spend nearly a million dollars to digitize cockpit flight information normally found in the form of paper products on aircrews' kneeboards and in map cases. If the project is successful, the labs jointly will make a case for the Air Force to fund this technology for the entire fleet.

"Results of this effort will feed into both Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command as they consider changes to and the development of concepts of operation, concepts of logistics, and operations requirements documents," said a battlelab proposal submitted to the Air Combat Command. The system could be "hot synched" to a local area network, so charts, technical orders and flight publications can be more easily updated, said the proposal. Battlelab officials said PacMan will minimize paper in the cockpit and allow the pilots and crewmembers to devote more time to the mission, and reduce the amount of time spent searching for information. "During in-flight emergencies or while engaged in combat, it is often impractical and sometimes unsafe to rummage through hard copies," said a battlelab document. "Further, it is difficult to read printed information while wearing night-vision goggles."

The estimated cost for developing, testing and demonstrating a preliminary capability is $920,000. Most of the funds are for sled testing, integration and independent studies.

Duresky noted that PacMan was one among several projects that his organization is proposing to the service's top leaders. He and other battlelab officials were in Washington last February to brief the Air Force Requirements Oversight Council on two technologies viewed as promising: a so-called enhanced maintenance operations center and a fuel cell designed to power maintenance vehicles on the flight line.

The enhanced maintenance operations center (EMOC) would consolidate the myriad databases used around the Air Force to track the status of the aircraft assigned to each wing. The idea is to have a "common standard tool," said Master Sgt. John Bitrick, aircraft maintenance director at the Air Expeditionary Force Battlelab. EMOC is a Web-based system and can be customized for each installation, he said. It cost about $500,000 to develop EMOC. The contractor was OR Concepts Applied, in Whittier, Calif.

"EMOC gives personnel at all levels instant access to current schedule, aircraft status, configurations and locations," said Bitrick. "It also provides a running history, tracking and analysis of maintenance events and actions on the flight line with one-time data entry for take-off and landing times, maintenance write-ups and discrepancies, and flying schedules."

The Air Force Requirements Oversight Council was favorably impressed by EMOC, Bitrick said.

Another project that AFROC reviewed was a fuel cell--called the Common Core Power Production (C2P2)--which would replace at least 30 types of engines used to power different generators. "We want to replace all the engines with fuel cells," said Air Force Master Sgt. Robert Wertz, who manages the project. Various diesel or turbine engines power the generators needed to run special purpose vehicles--used to move aircraft--and other maintenance equipment, Wertz explained.

The C2P2 currently has two variants: a 10-kilowatt and a 75-kilowatt. The fuel cells-known as Proton Exchange Membrane--were designed by the International Fuel Cell Corp.

But there is a long way to go before this technology is ready for the fleet, Wertz said. For one, the cells require hydrogen, so the Air Force will have to find a way to create hydrogen by reforming JP-8 jet fuel or natural gas. Compared to internal-combustion engines, fuel cells "require very little maintenance," because they have few parts and there is no need to change the oil, for example. They also eliminate toxic emissions.

"The logistics tail--oil, air and oil filters, unique repair parts, associated tools and equipment, hazardous material storage, transportation infrastructure and spill response kits--of existing internal combustion engines will be eliminated," he said.

The battlelab has conducted lengthy studies that show how much money the Air Force would save by adopting the fuel cell. But Wertz said it would be unrealistic to expect that this technology will be implemented in the near future, mostly because it's not affordable.

"The Air Force is not ready to accept this technology," he said. When the automotive industry starts producing fuel cells in mass quantities for the commercial market, the Air Force will be able to take advantage of the economies of scale, he said.--
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Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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