Falcon Star Manipulator Tool
Final Design
Robotics & Automation Engineering

The final design incorporated several client requirements, including six degrees of freedom, four of which are manual hand-crank driven and two of which are motorized. The motorized axes are for travel vertically and also horizontally in-and-out to make wing removal easier. When the wing is being removed, the old sealant must be removed and the wing must be pried away from the fuselage. By motorizing this axis, the fixture can put some tension on the wing, making it easier to remove the sealant. The electric motors, with variable-speed drives, operate on 120 volts, allowing the fixture to be used almost anywhere in a facility that has standard electrical plugs.

The wing manipulation tool is mounted on an aluminum transport frame with shock-absorbing castors, forklift slots, a tow bar, an electrical cable reel for power outlets and a pneumatic hose reel for serving air-powered tools. The tow bar locks into two upright positions for manual positioning. The frame also features two crossbars that support the weight of the wing, about 1,100 pounds with flaps intact or 900 pounds with the flaps removed, when it is lowered for towing.

The frame also includes retractable outriggers that stabilize it during lifting operations. The outriggers have sensors to indicate when they are bearing weight, and indicator lights on the main control enclosure indicate the outrigger status. The sensors are connected to an interlock so that the wing can be raised only if the outriggers are deployed.

The frame supports a custom electrical skillet-lift that is often used in automotive assembly lines to lift the vehicle chassis during the assembly process. The lift is operated with a three-speed control pendant that allows coarse and fine positioning. The lift supports a rotation stage that has hand cranks for fine positioning and a release lever that allows the wing to be freely rotated 90 degrees left or right between the towing position and the wing installation and removal position. The rotation stage supports an X-Y translation stage that allows manual positioning of the wing fore and aft along the fuselage, and powered positioning inboard and outboard from the fuselage. Mounted to the top of the translation stage is a "wrist" that allows the wing to be pitched and rolled. The wrist assembly incorporates a unique crankshaft design and two 3-ton screwjacks to allow mechanics to easily position the wing with fine motion control. Once removed, a wing can be secured by straps built into the frame and then towed to where the replacement wing attachment fittings are installed and machined.

The wing manipulation tool is designed to accommodate both left and right wings through the use of an innovative locking ball-and-socket joint based on a NASA design. The ball portion of the mechanism resembles a trailer hitch ball. Three balls are mounted on a T-shaped bar that can be attached to the existing ordnance hard-points on the wing bottom. The sockets are of a custom design, mounted to a Y-shaped structure that lines up with the hitch balls on the T-bars.

When the tool is driven upward and into contact with the hitch balls, the sockets lock around them automatically. Load cells mounted beneath each socket measure the socket load, and an integrated meter displays individual socket loads as well as the total load distributed across the three sockets. The meter also has relay interlocks to prevent scissor-lift operation if a socket is overloaded. This prevents the lift from putting undue stress on the wing while still attached to the fuselage.

Even with the overload protection features in place, the wing tool was designed to handle a load of two people working on top of the wing within four feet from where the wing attaches to the fuselage. Finite element analysis verified that key components could function fully under extreme loading conditions and SolidWorks™ software executed the mechanical design.

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Related Terminology

Falcon Star  •  aircraft assembly  •  wing assembly  •  wing lift  •  wing transport  •  automation engineering  •  F16 wing maintenance  •  removal and installation  •  U.S. Air Force


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Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a multidisciplinary, independent, nonprofit, applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization with 10 technical divisions.
07/13/16