During the summer of 2013, the Air Force Research Laboratory had a problem that no contractor seemed able to solve.
The lab took the task to the three service academies and challenged them to find a solution.
The problem: special operations teams needed a way to move heavy trucks like mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, when landmines or improvised explosive devices hit them in combat zones.
U.S. Air Force Academy cadets, led by faculty members in the engineering mechanics department, came up with the best solution and won another service academy competition in May for the third consecutive year.
The project: come up with a small, lightweight solution to lift up50,000 pounds.
“That’s a whole lot of weight,” said Capt. Michael Knauf, an instructor leading the nine-member cadet team. “It’s the equivalent of 27 Volkswagen Beetles.”
The capstone project was an attempt to solve a real-world problem, he said.
“They wanted something that would scale up quickly and get ready for distribution,” Knauf said. “Special operations needed this to get people out of the MRAPs quickly, and they came to AFRL for the solution.”
A telescoping hydraulic jack bested the other service academies.
“The hydraulic jacks met quite a few of the requirements,” Knauf said. “They created nine telescoping sections, interconnecting and interlocking that were powered by a 6-horsepower, remote-controlled airplane motor and a hydraulic pump that used vegetable oil as the working fluid.”
The invention, one of 200 considered by the team, lifted the tail-end of a 46,000 pound bulldozer during the competition.
Not only did the invention win the AFRL competition, it also came in third of a dozen teams in a similar National Security Innovation that included many other universities.
Cadets got to split $2,500 from that competition, sponsored by the National Homeland Defense Foundation.
“Ours was the best,” Knauf said. “The Navy came up with a piston that would raise it two inches, shore it, and then they would reiterate that quite a bit. It took 14, 15 times and more than an hour to do it. Our project lifted the bulldozer the required 18 inches in less than five minutes.”
The research lab created the competition because contractors were reluctant to come up with a solution. The cadet invention will live on and the department will improve the design, Knauf said.
“We’re not really sure if the AFRL will keep testing it,” he said. “But we’re hopeful that we can take the design a little bit further next year.”
Having graduated May 28, most of the nine cadets are now second lieutenants. They are: Rebecca Bauman, Will Flemming, Alex Pecci, Jacob Risma, Kevin Tanous, Jason Hodges, Mark Jensen, Max Jones and Kenner Rogers, a senior this year.