An automated aircraft ground refuelling robot, under development by the US Air Force Research Laboratory Materials and Manufacturing Directorate for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, could be demonstrated in the field next year.
Already demonstrated in the laboratory, its vision-based guidance system directs the robot's movements, which are initiated or aborted by a remote station, and fuel is supplied through a multi-jointed, moving pipeline called a pantograph. Vision and proximity sensors locate the aircraft's position and the robot's approach.
The vision system confirms aircraft type, assesses its orientation and locates the fuel door. The robot positions itself near the door and using angular measurement aligns its fuel nozzle with the aircraft's refuelling adapter, attaches and starts refuelling. A similar reverse procedure is carried out after refuelling.
"Future advances based on the results of the [robot] will allow refuelling crews to operate free of [protective] gear in a closed environment and still be protected from chemical-biological risks," says the air force laboratory. The USAF also wants to reduce the number of personnel near aircraft during refuelling.
The robot was developed after a request from the USAF's Air Education and Training Command and Petroleum Agency and the US Naval Air Systems Command. The robot's development is to help the USAF meet its Air Force Smart Operations 21 goals where materiel and personnel are used more efficiently.