HOUSTON – A new technology allows cargo pallets to be stacked on top of each other, enabling storage for more pallets without sacrificing cargo space in an aircraft.
“Traditionally, we load pallets with tools, equipment, luggage, install a net, and then load it onto a cargo aircraft. Then that aircraft, after being loaded, goes into the AOR (area of responsibility),” said Capt. Daniel Grotte, 147th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander. “But now, the VPS (vertical packing system) allows us to go further and stack another pallet on top to maximize the cubic footage of any cargo aircraft.”
This new VPS technology was developed from initiatives to embrace the concept of agile combat employment. The ACE concept is an operational scheme of maneuver that emphasizes light, lean and flexible forces.
The 147th Attack Wing demonstrated its ability to embrace the ACE concept during a training exercise in the Czech Republic in August. While aircraft and other assets were diverted to support the evacuation of Afghanistan, the 147th had to redevelop a cargo load plan using available resources.
“USTRANSCOM told us we only have one C-5, so it’s make-it or break-it,” said Master Sgt. Nicolas Gassiott, a production superintendent at the 147th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “We came up with a load plan that allowed us to take a fully functional Launch and Recovery Element on a singular airlift to the Czech Republic, flew successfully, and redeployed back home.”
Leadership recognized the value of this approach and the need to continue to innovate and develop new solutions to accommodate a leaner and more agile force. The 147th ATKW began partnering with Air Force Research Laboratories, USTRANSCOM, the University of Ohio at Dayton, and other organizations to develop the VPS system.
Throughout the development process, the 147th recognized the strategic value of this new technology.
“When we loaded the C-5 to go to the Czech Republic, we were able to load one MQ-9 Reaper and associated equipment onto that airplane,” said Grotte. “The VPS system would allow us to bring two containerized MQ-9s, so it increases our capabilities.”
The VPS’s efficient use of cargo space also has potential cost savings for the Air Force.
“In our load plans, we were actually able to max out the airlift capabilities of a C-5 before we ran out of space,” said Gassiott. “That generally doesn’t happen. The C-5 takes a whole lot of cargo, but it burns roughly the same amount of gas, so when you can take more cargo in one aircraft, you have a big cost savings.”
Another way the VPS system incorporates ACE is by catering to the concept of multi-capable Airmen, allowing service members from a variety of branches and career fields to be trained to build and operate a VPS.
“Every Soldier, every Sailor, every Marine, every Coast Guardsmen, every Space Guardian will be able to build this off of what we here at the 147th, AFRL and the University of Ohio have all collaborated on to put out into the field,” said Gassiott.
Beyond the financial and strategic capabilities of integrating this new technology, the efficiency of the VPS system also has the capacity to improve quality of life — freeing up critical storage space and allowing room for transportation of more Airmen.
“As our forces are getting smaller and smaller, the smallest thing you can do to improve the quality of their life is going to keep them in longer,” said Gassiott. “We have proof in our load plans that we’ve freed up seats along with cargo that was impossible before. Now those Airmen can go home, see their kids, their family, their dog, whatever it is bringing them home. They can get back to that faster.”