NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.– When facing emergency landing conditions, aviators and aircrew have long relied on time-tested training, procedures, and equipment to make perilous moments as safe as possible.
As the Navy adapts to the CMV-22B Osprey as its carrier onboard delivery (COD) platform, many new procedures need to be created and approved from the ground up. Unlike previous V?22 variants, there were no standardized crash equipment available on a carrier to protect the CMV-22B during emergency landings.
PMA-251’s Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) team closely coordinated with the V-22 Joint Program Office (PMA-275) to help field equipment to support CMV-22B in an emergency gear-up landing situation aboard a carrier, which is needed if an aircraft’s landing gear fails to fully extend.
Lt. Hans Stein, PMA-275 CMV-22B assistant program manager for logistics, was tasked to procure the equipment that fit the Navy’s unique needs, a difficult assignment based on impending deployment deadlines, shipping, and manufacturing delays due to COVID-19 and Brexit.
Stein explained that when V-22s make emergency landings on land, they rely on stacks of mattresses to cushion the aircraft. A solution designed to fit the needs of a carrier-based gear-up landing needed to duplicate the mattresses’ functionality, demand little space in the tight confines of the carrier, and meet the requirements of the crew and ARFF teams.
“PMA-251, the [NAS Patuxent River] Cargo Lab, the CMV-22B lead engineer, VRM-30, and the VRM Wing and I all put our heads together to come up with requirements for the bags,” said Stein. “With the assistance of the NAWCAD Procurement group, we sent the requirements out to industry, they bid on it, and we selected prototype Emergency Landing Pads (ELP).”
ELPs are airbags that can be inflated, deflated, stacked, attached, and easily stored on carriers.
Lt. Caleb McDonald, ARFF team lead and Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization program manager for PMA-251, worked closely with Stein over the last year to test and field the ELP prototypes where they were most urgently needed.
USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) crews and what’s known as the “Air Wing of The Future” (AWOTF) — the Navy’s new mix of F-35C Lightning II and CMV-22Bs on the carrier — were slated first to receive the new ELPs. When Vinson’s deployment schedule moved up, the timeline was shortened again.
McDonald and Stein’s most critical shared goal was Vinson’s short delivery deadline, as the inaugural deployment of the CMV-22B relied on the prototype to support air operations.
“Shipping delays meant we needed to be innovative in our testing approach to ensure timely delivery” said Stein. “We received the ELPs at the end of May and tested them in the Pax River Cargo lab using a forklift with 13,000 lbs. Then we figured out a tie-down pattern and suitable location onboard USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78) in Norfolk.”
McDonald said the testing on Ford was key to finalizing airbag setup, inflation, and deck-side connections. Observing the evolution were several Atlantic Fleet Aircraft Handling Officers, Aviation Boatswains Mates, and representatives from Afloat Training Group, Commander Naval Air Forces Atlantic, and the Naval Safety Center, ensuring the solution met the needs of the users.
After the demo on Ford, PMA-275 and PMA-251 packed up the equipment and shipped it to San Diego for use on Vinson. The next step, with only days to spare, was to quickly train the crew to use the airbags. They finished their training the day before Vinson left for Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX).
“The changes threw some wrenches into our plans, but we adapted and got the ELPs to Vinson’s crew in time for COMPTUEX,” said McDonald. “We conducted training and set up demonstrations with the CMV-22 detachment and then they took it aboard. They set up, working hand-in-hand with the Crash and Salvage crew, and prepared them to assist if something happens during flight operations on the ship.”
Stein said the partnership with PMA-251 was critical to helping him liaison, get crew aboard the aircraft carriers, and coordinate with crash and salvage teams.
“PMA-251 helped us get aboard the different ships and coordinate the groundwork force. Crash and Salvage coordinated everything for us, getting on the Ford in Norfolk, and Lt. McDonald was instrumental in helping me get set up on Vinson too – we were able to move quickly working together because we could talk both the boat language and the aircraft language,” explained Stein.
The airbag training was well received. Stein and McDonald said any apprehension quickly dissipated when the crew tested the equipment.
“People initially thought the bags were going to be complicated but when they got their hands on them, they realized they were really simple and they didn’t need complex procedures,” said Stein.
McDonald said the testing gave the crew confidence in the new landing pads and the capabilities they offer the fleet compared to previous variants of the technology.
With one successful delivery in hand, PMA-251 and PMA-275 have their sights on their next delivery, which is planned for the next carrier with the AWOTF attached.
They are also planning ELP testing to possibly find ways to use them for other types of aircraft.
McDonald explained future uses are still very forward-looking, but that test planning is in the works to explore utilizing the airbags to either improve existing aircraft procedures or replace existing equipment. More testing will be planned as needed and based on feedback from the fleet and in cooperation with other platforms.
As the Crash and Salvage crew on Vinson work with the equipment, they are also providing feedback and suggesting other uses for the prototype. In addition to possibly using the ELPs to assist in other aircrafts’ emergency landing, the airbags are showing great potential for other uses on deck, said McDonald.
McDonald and Stein explained they may be able to use the ELPs when all the aircraft are closely stacked, and crew cannot easily access spaces with a forklift.
“Since the bags were originally made for Crash and Salvage and firefighting purposes, they’re designed to lift heavy trucks,” said Stein. “So, you could potentially insert a deflated ELP and then inflate them to lift. Or, if there are two aircraft too close together, you could stack deflated bags and then inflate them to lift and create space.”
Stein explained ELP testing has only just begun. The prototypes will make their way back into the labs, and as other platforms test and find uses for the equipment, the initiative could potentially become a joint program, expanding the benefits throughout naval aviation.
PMA-251 and PMA-275 will continue working with the ELP prototypes as they receive feedback from the teams using the equipment, and as they prepare for future use.
McDonald said the ELPs are a great example of the ingenuity needed as the ARFF team continues to meet the fleet’s current and future rescue and firefighting needs. Both Stein and McDonald agreed cooperation is paramount to ensuring both programs can meet the needs of an ever-expanding air wing and its tools and practices.