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SwRI-designed tool gives F-16 wings a lift during maintenance

San Antonio -- October 19, 2005 -- A compact, mobile lifting device designed by Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®) engineers for the U.S. Air Force allows ground crews to remove and reattach the wings of F-16 fighter aircraft quickly and easily during maintenance.

Along with supplying drawings and plans to the Air Force, SwRI shipped a production unit of the device to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, where the Air Force is conducting a program, called Falcon Star, in which every F-16 in the fleet will undergo a series of maintenance operations. One major operation involves replacing the attachment fittings that mount the fighter's wings onto the fuselage using a series of bolts.

The current process for removing and reinstalling wings uses a mobile crane and a sling to lift the wing from above. Because it is difficult to make fine adjustments using a crane, aligning the bolt holes risks damage to fracture-critical parts from excessive force. The time needed to align the wing, up to several hours, also jeopardizes the application of a fast-drying sealant along the wing-fuselage joint.

From an idea conceived by Hill AFB engineers, SwRI engineers designed a new tool that can be moved and operated by two workers instead of three. It uses an electric scissor jack to lift the wing, and electric motors and manual control cranks to precisely adjust the wing's height as well as its tilt from side-to-side and from fore-to-aft. Once taken off the aircraft, the wing is easily rolled about on the device's castors after the wing has been secured with fittings that attach to ordnance racks on the bottom of the wing.

"Because it is positioned beneath the aircraft instead of overhead, the new Falcon Star wing manipulator can be used for field repairs in low-ceilinged structures where a crane can't go," said Robert Johannesson, project manager and a group leader in SwRI's Automation and Data Systems Division. He added, "In the future it may be adapted for other aircraft as well."

The Falcon Star wing manipulator has improved quality by eliminating damage to attachment fittings, eliminating the need for a crane and its operator and adding stability to the wing removal and reattachment process.

For more information, contact Joe Fohn, Communications Department, (210) 522-4630, Southwest Research Institute, PO Drawer 28510, San Antonio, TX 78228-0510.

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