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High Pressure Pneumatic System Prevents Critical Errors for Fighter Jets

Missiles could not separate from the bay of $120-million fighter jets if released above Mach 1 speeds, causing critical pilot and aircraft danger.  At speeds lower than Mach 1, the fighter jets could be located and attacked. EPIC Systems provided a custom high pressure pneumatic system, designed to allow our nation’s pilots to deploy weaponry at high speeds approaching Mach 2.  

Client: Boeing

Industry: Military and Defense

Key Engineering Features:

  • High pressure aluminum and fiberglass air tanks allow a large volume of air to rapidly disperse
  • CD (convergent/divergent) nozzle array discharges an air curtain to redirect air flow around the aircraft fuselage, allowing missiles to disengage from the plane during high speed deployment
  • Proof-of-concept test module proves that the pressure regulator can stand up to the mass airflow rate required of the tanks

Core Challenges:

  • When a missile was fired at speeds approaching Mach 2, air passing underneath the plane forced the missile back into the bomb bay. When fighter jets had to slow down to fire a missile, they could be seen and attacked
  • Aggressive project completion schedule was specified due to the high risk to fighter pilots
  • All componentry within the system had to handle 50 G’s of force in all directions or catastrophic failure would occur. If the systems failed, missiles would not separate from the plane and it would slam back into the bomb bay
  • Finding air tanks with large necks to allow a mass airflow rate was a significant engineering and procurement challenge

Front End Engineering:

Rocket sled testing could have been costly without proper engineering and planning. The high-pressure system had to work correctly before it was tested on the rocket sled track. The internal components of the rocket sled could not fail or malfunction and components of the sled had to work consistently under intense pressure. Front End Engineering was an essential stage of the custom system design.

Testing the pressure regulator was the most critical aspect of FEE. The tanks were under great pressure with the equivalent potential energy of 9lbs of TNT. The pressure regulator was the “gateway” between the tanks and the downstream componentry and was required to operate at a precise level of reliability. The regulator testing was completed at a remote site due to the mass potential energy of the tanks. Confirming that the pressure regulator operated as expected during FEE gave EPIC and Boeing confidence to move forward with the project.

EPIC’s Final Solution:

EPIC was approached by Boeing, who was in need of an engineered solution. To fire missiles without the danger of internal explosion, pilots had to slow down below Mach 1. They could be seen, targeted, and attacked when reducing speed. The air pressure that is passed underneath the plane was so great at speeds above Mach 1, that a missile would slam back into the bomb bay. How could you give the aircraft the ability to fire at speeds approaching Mach 2?

The engineers at EPIC worked tirelessly to provide a custom high pressure pneumatic system on time and within budget. EPIC understood that a reduced execution timeline was required to reduce pilot vulnerabilities.

The high pressure pneumatic system was engineered and manufactured to shoot a vertical air curtain to push the missile down and away from the jet.  This air curtain required a large quantity of air to be expelled at a rapid rate to allow the missiles to separate from the jet.

Examining the requirements from Boeing, EPIC’s engineers formed a conceptual process flow diagram. It was clear that custom high pressure, high flow tanks would be needed for the project. Finding tanks that could contain a large amount of air under pressure, while at the same time have a large enough neck to accommodate the high flow rate, proved to be the most challenging aspect of the project.

This project required outside-the-box thinking to come up with the best-engineered solution. Custom high-pressure tanks had long lead times and were very costly to manufacture. They would then have to be destructively tested to prove their capabilities. A small tank was required that held a large volume of air and could expel all of it in a fraction of a second.

EPIC’s engineers had the creativity to look into the air tanks that inflated emergency landing slides for commercial jet planes. These tanks held a large amount of air under pressure, were small enough to fit in the rocket sled, and had a large enough neck to expel air at the desired flow rates.

An EPIC-engineered high pressure pneumatic systemAfter locating tanks that could handle the correct pressures and flow rates, EPIC’s engineers developed a complete process flow diagram and 3D design. The system was fabricated at EPIC’s plant and programmed in-house by a team of EPIC’s automation engineers.

Before system installation, the module had to undergo 50G shaker testing to assure that all componentry could withstand 50G’s of force in all directions. This test saved the client money because a component was found that was not able to withstand the force before being installed in the rocket sled. The system was installed, and final FAT testing was completed before leaving EPIC’s manufacturing plant.

EPIC’s high pressure pneumatic system would be put to the test at Holloman Air Force Base. The rocket sled was mounted on a fixed track where it would reach speeds of Mach 2, triggering missile deployment. If the missile fell away as expected, the test was a success. If the missile slammed back into the rocket sled it was back to the drawing board. A new system would have been designed, engineered and built, causing critical delays in the project.

As the rocket sled careened down the track at speed approaching Mach 2 the missile was released. It fell away from the rocket sled as expected landing with an explosion. The system was a success.

Impact:

  • Through Front End Engineering, the project cost was reduced due to issues that were discovered before system manufacturing began
  • Boeing received the fastest time to market system
  • Successful rocket sled testing was made possible by EPIC’s high pressure pneumatic system performing flawlessly
  • EPIC received the Boeing Pride Award in recognition of mitigating risk of system failure

Why EPIC Systems?

A custom process system design firm helps you design, fabricate and integrate an appropriate custom solution that meets your unique need. EPIC believes we can help you “Do It Better” by:

  • Utilizing Front-End Engineering to ensure that the proper steps are taken during project scope development
  • Appointing a single point of direct contact during the entirety of the project
  • Maintaining an open-door client policy to promote innovation. We invite clients to visit EPIC to experiment with new processes, technologies and techniques that push the limits of traditional engineering
  • Imparting a transfer of knowledge (not just a basic training) for the machines and equipment we provide

Find a better solution. Contact EPIC or learn more about custom high pressure pneumatic system design

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EPIC Modular Process Systems
4134 Meramec Bottom Rd
St. Louis, MO 63129, US
(314) 845-0077