Air Force Research Lab researchers are developing a robot to refuel the F-35 stealth fighter that they hope will be ready for demonstrational testing early in 2010. The automated aircraft ground refueling system, as it is called, would allow maintenance personnel to refuel the aircraft quickly and efficiently. It would also be a safer option for airmen, since it would reduce the number of personnel needed near the aircraft during “hot-pit refuelings” when the aircraft’s engine is still running. The AAGR concept involves a robot tethered to a fuel hydrant by a multi-jointed, moving pipeline that follows behind the robot and supplies it with fuel. The robot’s guidance system would direct it to the aircraft’s fuel door for the coupling of its nozzle with the aircraft’s fuel adapter and the passing of the fuel. A human operator would initiate the robotic system with the push of a button from a console several hundred feet away. The console would allow an airman to monitor the simultaneous activities of one or more refueling robots and quickly abort a refueling should a problem arise. AFRL researchers have already shown in mock refuelings in the laboratory “that an autonomous robot is a feasible alternative to manual refueling,” said Walt Waltz, leader of AFRL’s Robotic Group. (AFRL report by Mindy Cooper)
Reports of production troubles on the SpaceX rocket that could contend for military cargo deliveries happened to coincide with a different company’s concept receiving an early nod—one that might not require a rocket at all.