NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.– The Common Aviation Support Equipment program office’s (PMA-260) shipboard aircraft handler (SAH) was used in an operational environment for the first time aboard the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in June.

Lead support test engineer Tom Tuominen and Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Aircraft Handler (ABH2) Ruben Montenegro test the Shipboard Aircraft Handler in the CVN 75 hangar bay on June 16. (U.S. Navy Photo)

Lead support test engineers from Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) joined the crew aboard CVN 75 to conduct operational environment tests of the SAH, which were conducted to evaluate the SAH. The SAH replaces the prior shipboard handler, the spotting dolly, which has been in use for approximately 35 years. The SAH mission is to grab, lift, and tow Navy and Marine Corps aircraft within hangar bays.

“After many years, the Navy has decided to procure a new replacement shipboard handler to keep the mission going with the pace of technology. The SAH is intended to replace the shipboard spotting dolly,” said PMA-260 lead support test engineer Tom Tuominen.

In keeping with the pace of today’s technology, the new version of the spotting dolly uses wireless communication. The SAH has toggle and joystick controls that are operated directly by the sailor with little to no lag time between the Bluetooth controls and the machine. It also has the ability to closely maneuver around obstacles in the hangar bay.

 “Great things in business are never done by one individual. They’re done by a team of people.  The SAH team has faced every challenge head-on and jumped every hurdle, to include the pandemic, supply chain logistical issues, and shortage of workers in the industry, “said Cmdr. Kevin Bittle, SAH team co-lead.

Bittle’s civilian co-lead David Sutherland echoed his team-centric sentiment, “Even with thousands of miles between our industry partners and Patuxent River, the SAH team never lost its focus on commitment to the effort. We still have work to do, but everyone knows their role, all have been executing, and we look forward to the finished product.”

In the event wireless connectivity cannot be used, the SAH also has the ability to be driven with the same control panel, but connected to the handler itself through a tether.  This backup option ensures the SAH can be used no matter what conditions are present in an operational setting.

“The PMA-260 program office provides common aviation support equipment to the fleet for use by our sailors and Marines. With shipboard testing of the SAH, we’re one step closer to fielding the replacement for the current aircraft spotting dolly with a unit that is more intuitive and safer for the users to operate,” said Capt. Robert Burgess, PMA-260 program manager.

The test engineers collected feedback from sailors aboard CVN 75, and employed that feedback in modifications made in the final SAH design.

The Common Aviation Support Equipment program office (PMA-260) manages the procurement, development, and fielding of Common Ground Support Equipment and Automatic Test Equipment that supports every Type/Model/Series aircraft within the Naval Aviation Enterprise. PMA-260 leads the development and maintenance of the Naval Aviation Support Equipment (SE) program investment strategy/process oversight to insure optimization of support, development of Common Support Equipment requirements, and SE standardization throughout naval aviation.


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