NAVAL AIR WARFARE CENTER AIRCRAFT DIVISION, PATUXENT RIVER Md. — Engineers at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) are testing the Navy’s current fleet of Aerial Refueling Store pods to support the service’s new air-to-air refueling tanker, the MQ-25 Stingray, potentially saving millions.
Today, the current fleet of Aerial Refueling Store pods fly aboard naval aircraft like F/A-18 and are expected to reach their estimated end-of-life in 2025. Conversely, the MQ-25 will need dozens of pods delivered between now and 2035 as the Stingray heads to the fleet.
“There are about 200 pods in inventory and each carries 2,000 lbs. of fuel,” said NAWCAD engineer, Tom Cavallaro. “With this proven life-extension testing, the pods should be able to expand Stingray’s reach and operate in the fleet through 2040.”
New fuel pods cost the Navy about $2.2 million each.
“If testing is successful, Flight Readiness Center (FRC) Southeast can reuse the current pod shells and update their internal workings at less than half the cost,” said NAWCAD structural engineer, Corey Golladay.
To test the integrity of the pods’ frame, NAWCAD engineers and technicians created a custom test rig featuring hydraulic arms that twist and flex the pod replicating gravity and acceleration forces gathered from flight data.
“The test took two-and-a-half months to run 6,292 unique cases of flight data – in total, 440,720 simulated loads,” said Golladay. “That’s equivalent to two lifetimes of force – with no visual damage to the shell exterior.”
NAWCAD’s Structures lab, with experts in aircraft structural and fatigue testing and strain gage installations, collaborated with the Navy’s Precision Strike Weapons Program Office (PMA-201) for the project. The team will next send the tested pod to FRC Southeast in Jacksonville, Florida, to check for wear and determine whether refurbishment will be the solution.
Watch Navy engineers test an aging refueling pod here: youtube.com/watch?v=uM6fwJeLzxo
The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division employs more than 17,000 military, civilian and contract personnel. It operates test ranges, laboratories and aircraft in support of test, evaluation, research, development and sustainment of everything flown by the Navy and Marine Corps. Based in Patuxent River, Maryland, the command also has major sites in St. Inigoes, Maryland, Lakehurst, New Jersey, and Orlando, Florida.