A multi-disciplinary team of researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras developed a solution to support cargo handling operations at austere locations. This innovative idea helped the team win the “Student Innovator of the Year” award in the Indian Automotive Technology and Innovation Awards (IATIA) 2017.
A dedicated team of researchers at IIT Madras, spearheaded by Anupam Chandra, diligently worked on developing a solution for improving the cargo handling operations during disaster relief missions of Indian Air Force as well as for various other air forces across the globe.
What started-off as a project for a student design challenge has now evolved into an industry-sponsored R&D project to develop a unique solution for the cargo handling operations for military aircrafts across the globe. In October 2014, Lockheed Martin (LM) had launched the “C-130 Roll-On/Roll-off (RO/RO) University Design Challenge”, where university teams were challenged to design, develop and prototype new RO/RO payloads to support disaster relief & humanitarian aid-type missions of the Hercules C-130 aircraft.
After a year and a half of brainstorming, conducting requirement analysis, market survey, concept designs and customer interactions – including discussions with the Indian Air Force crew of the Hercules C-130 aircraft at Hindon airbase – the five-member team from IIT Madras made its first big breakthrough. In March 2016, a jury panel comprising high ranking scientists and executives from Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Tata Advanced Systems Ltd, US Air Force and Lockheed Martin selected and awarded the team from IIT Madras a grant of $ 85,000 to carry out further prototype development on their novel concept of a material handling vehicle titled Cargo Ground Buildup System (CGBS).
Fast forward to now, the prototype is in its final stages of development. Designed and developed indigenously, this CGBS has garnered significant interest from operators of Hercules aircraft worldwide as well as automotive OEMs, who have extended full technical and product support to cater to the customised requirements of the prototype.
THE PROBLEM STATEMENT
Rapid response holds the key to saving lives immediately following a disaster. Tactical airlift aircraft like the Hercules C-130s are one of the most used aircrafts in such scenarios. However, in such scenarios, unfortunately, there is limited airfield available with restricted usable ramp space and damaged infrastructure, which limits the availability of material handling equipment. This makes it difficult to unload cargo from the aircraft and the crew has to manually offload it by breaking down the pallets, which can carry up to 5 tonne of cargo, box by box.
This is time-consuming and significantly increases aircraft turnaround times. To cite an instance, the Indian Air Force C-130J, while extending support to Nepal following the 2015 earthquake, waited for three hours to offload relief supplies after landing due to unavailable equipment at the site. Similar situations persist with such air force missions around the world, who have no solution to unload tonnes of cargo without any equipment or infrastructure availability onsite.
The CGBS provides a solution to such scenarios. The CGBS can be transported along with the aircraft to such locations, where it can load or unload the aircraft without requiring any additional equipment or infrastructure. The vehicle is designed according to the constraints of the aircraft and it can be transported on the aircraft without reducing cargo space available and retaining the normal cargo pallet positions for fully sized 463-L pallets. Each pallet can carry up to 5 tonne of cargo and CGBS has been designed to handle it while limiting its own weight to under 2.5 tonne.
CGBS is a unique unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) and a combination of forklifts and K-loaders – material handling vehicles commonly used for military transport aircrafts. Additionally, CGBS employs a novel mechanism, conceptualised and designed by researchers at IIT Madras, to enable the vehicle to handle a cargo double its own weight.
The CGBS offers aircraft operators various value proposition. The first and foremost is air transportability – it is capable of being transported on the Hercules C-130 stored on the ramp position and retains the normal cargo pallet positions for fully-sized 463-L pallets. CGBS also reduces the downtime for the aircraft during unloading from 3-4 hr to about 30-45 min besides eliminating the reliance on availability of manual labour or material handling equipment at the drop site. Further, CGBS can operate in all weather conditions that the C-130 can operate in.
CGBS is valuable for all operators of the 2,600+ Hercules C-130s operating across the world, who operate it in missions at austere and remote locations, the most common being humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HADR) missions. Other missions include transporting cargo to remote airbases such as the Indian Air Force’s Daulat Beg Oldie airstrip in Ladakh at an altitude of over 16,000 ft.
The CGBS project is part of a broad initiative of the Lockheed Martin Corporation India Technology Growth Cooperative Research & Development Programme to demonstrate LM’s commitment for indigenous development by partnering with academia and small/medium enterprises. The CGBS R&D programme has been funded by Lockheed Martin’s Corporate Engineering, Technology & Operations (CETO) office with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics providing technical support and advice on C-130 capabilities and RO/RO design considerations.
Lockheed Martin has been monitoring the progress of CGBS and is actively working with IITM to identify go-to-market opportunities for the product. On successful demonstration of the prototype, all stakeholders – LM, IITM research team and the Indian industry partners – will decide on exploring the best option to take it to the next stage of development, either jointly or individually based on the interest.