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News | Oct. 1, 2019

AMCTES Testers conduct worldwide cargo pallet evaluation

By Susan G. Gotta Air Mobility Command Test and Evaluation Squadron

The heartbeat of Air Mobility Command is its capability to transport goods efficiently and effectively in support of military and humanitarian operations globally. The universal cargo handling system using the 463L cargo pallet has been the mainstay for cargo movement since the early 1960’s, with the standard aluminum cargo pallet essentially unchanged in all of this time. Repair and replacement costs associated with these legacy pallets have prompted the Air Force to look at initiatives that will provide cost savings and/or process improvement, an ongoing key objective within Air Mobility Command. One of these cost savings initiatives has been rolled-out for operational testing this year by the AMC Test and Evaluation Squadron.

A test team from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey has begun a year-long Logistics Service Test on the proposed replacement for the 463L cargo pallets. Testing began in May 2019 with 500 Next Generation All-Aluminum cargo pallets being delivered and put into service worldwide. Supporting units for this test include the aerial port operations for the 305th Air Mobility Wing at JB MDL, NJ, who received 100 NGAA pallets; the 730th Air Mobility Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan, who received 50 NGAA pallets; and the 721st Aerial Port Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, who received 50 NGAA pallets.

“The remaining 300 additional test article pallets have been shipped to other Air Force bases to be put into general use within the Defense Transportation System worldwide,” said test director Master Sgt. Thomas Zahner.

The legacy 463L pallets are constructed with a balsa wood core adhesively bonded to aluminum top and bottom skins with 22 tie-down rings and four corner brackets. They are compatible with the cargo rail system and meet military and commercial air transport requirements and certifications for all MAF aircraft including C-5, C-17, C-130, KC-135, and KC-10 aircraft.

Currently there are over 200,000 legacy pallets authorized and in USAF inventory, representing an investment in excess of $323 million, however the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center estimates a four-year repair/replacement timeline for the legacy pallets, potentially costing the Air Force $25.8M annually. In response, the Air Force has established a funded engineering effort to design and produce a new technology pallet to replace the legacy design.

The test article, an all-aluminum pallet, constructed with a corrosion-resistant aluminum skin on an all-aluminum core, is a form, fit and function replacement for the legacy pallet. It maintains the same size and weight proportions, as well as rail and tie-down configuration as the legacy pallet but is projected to be more cost effective to produce and maintain.

“The Program Office estimates the total replacement procurement contract for cargo pallets to be in excess of $750 million,” said test director Master Sgt. Robert Bello, highlighting the total investment value to replace all pallets circulating within the universal cargo handling system worldwide.

AMCTES Test Directors are assessing two critical operational issues in this test: the operational effectiveness of pallet performance during single and 2-pallet train cargo uploads, and the operational suitability as determined in part by its compatibility with material handling equipment including mechanized material handling systems at overseas locations.

Representing over 29 Air Force Specialty Codes , AMCTES selects and specifically trains its Test Directors to carry out AMC operational testing missions worldwide. The test team selected for this test include AMCTES Test Directors Master Sergeant Thomas Zahner, a C-17 Loadmaster, Master Sergeant Robert Bello, an Aerial Port Specialist, Technical Sgt. Thomas Litteer, a C-17A Loadmaster, Technical Sgt. Justin Buchholz, a Guidance and Control Officer, and Master Sgt. William Jackson, AMCTES Operations Flight Chief and C-130 Loadmaster.

The team conducted initial inspections of the test pallets performance during normal cargo loading/unloading, strapping/chaining, and netting of cargo loads on C-5, C-17, and KC-10 aircraft during the initial phases of the test at the Germany, Japan, and US base locations in May and June 2019. Aerial port operators at these locations were asked to rate the safety of the pallets in normal operations, and the reliability and serviceability as compared to the legacy pallets. Additionally, the team will collect performance data for the remainder of this year from all participating bases worldwide to further assess the suitability of the replacement pallets and the compatibility with aerial port material handling equipment, AMC aircraft, and cargo transportation.

Initial results indicate the All-Aluminum cargo pallets are potentially operationally effective for airlift operations; however, operational suitability remains unresolved pending completion of ongoing testing. Test Directors offered an initial recommendation highlighting potential design-aspect improvements to pallet fabrication.

“Inconsistencies in pallet construction requires a closer look,” commented Technical Sgt. Thomas Litteer, referring to initial Test Director findings of some construction discrepancies of the NGAA pallets as compared to the legacy pallet; however, AMCTES determined these irregularities have a negligible impact on cargo weight distributions on 2- and 3-pallet trains during cargo loading and offloading.

As the sole operational test organization of AMC, AMCTES provides operationally representative testing that directly impact the warfighter. The objective recording and reporting of test findings allows AMCTES to focus on providing recommendations that maximize aircrew safety, and program efficiencies.

Upon completion of data collection and analysis, AMCTES will provide a final report to HQ AMC/TE to aid in procurement and fielding decisions of the replacement pallet for use on USAF aircraft, and globally within the Defense Transportation System.

Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst website.