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Getting The Drop On A Challenge
November 19, 2009

A tanker drops slurry on a fire, but Systems Technology was asked to assist in determining if other aircraft could serve as tankers.A tanker drops slurry on a fire, but Systems Technology was asked to assist in determining if other aircraft could serve as tankers. (Photo Courtesy of 10 Tanker Air Carrier) Small Business Has A Role In Determining Whether Very Large Aerial Tankers Are The Answer To U.S. Forest Service Needs

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service asked Dryden to evaluate the operational uses of two aircraft as very large aerial tankers, a Small Business Innovative Research agreement helped answer the question.

Mark Dickerson, Very Large Aerial Tanker - or VLAT - project manager, and Dryden researcher Tim Cox began to consider options to answer the key questions in determining if two large aircraft could be used as tankers for the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Cox, a Dryden aerospace engineer, had recently overseen System Technology's work as the contracting officer on the company's recently completed SBIR phase II on flying qualities and topics relevant and applicable to the tanker questions. The company agreed to take on the work as a phase III SBIR. Phase I SBIRs flesh out a concept, which is validated by a phase II agreement if it is judged worthy. A phase III agreement shows the concept is ready for use, Cox explained.

"The Forest Service does not assess handling qualities - that's not what they do, so they approached Dryden. Under a cooperative agreement they had in place, they could ask Dryden to look into it and Dryden asked for our help," Klyde said.

Cox explained what Systems Technology was asked to do.

"They were brought in to help plan and analyze data from simulation sessions using a [Boeing] 747 simulator at Ames and a DC-10 simulator in Florida. A future project might compare flight data to the simulations," Cox said.

"Systems Technology assisted in the analysis of the simulations that we did, using their expertise in handling quality issues such as pilot-induced oscillation. Their significant experience benefited our investigation on whether these big airplanes have sufficient handling qualities to maneuver in close proximity to terrain, set up approaches to a targeted drop line, and successfully perform the drop," Cox added.

Using small businesses can make a difference in NASA research, said Dickerson.

"The value of small business is that they do a good job of complementing our indigenous capabilities. Dryden is only so big, so having access to small and big business brings great expertise. Small business also tends to be an excellent value," he said.

For more than 20 years, Systems Technology has worked with Dryden, especially with the controls and dynamics branch. This [Systems Technology and Dryden] agreement contracted the company to work on aircraft simulations at Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and a separate simulation in Florida to determine if the handling qualities of the two aircraft under study would fit the firefighting missions for which the Forest Service was considering them.

David Klyde, Systems Technology technical director and principal research engineer, is seen here as an evaluation pilot for the Calpsan Learjet II In-Flight Simulator.David Klyde, Systems Technology technical director and principal research engineer, is seen here as an evaluation pilot for the Calspan Learjet II In-Flight Simulator. The purpose of the flight was to generate a flying-qualities database that has since been used to develop and assess new system of identification techniques. The work was sponsored by the Air Force Flight Test Center under a Phase II SBIR. (Photo Courtesy of Systems Technology) The company took data from the piloted simulation and did analysis and reported those results back to Dryden, said David Klyde, Systems Technology technical director and principal research engineer. Klyde also went to the DC-10 facility in Victorville for an assessment, then helped with the final report writing and assisted with the briefing to the Forest Service.

The aircraft were determined to be airworthy because they would be operating well under their maximum weight limitations, could carry a full load of water or retardant, have excess engine capability to get them out of difficult situations and their handling qualities are good depending on terrain, Klyde said. Steep turns in the simulation were harder for the larger aircraft than for the smaller aircraft currently used by the Forest Service, he said.

The final report did not recommend using the aircraft in very steep or rugged terrain unless deliveries of water or slurry can be made with minimal maneuvering, with a lead plane available and with adequate terrain clearance at the wingtips as well as on centerline, he added.

The initial chapter is complete for this research, but the forest service has expressed interested in this work. Not just the airplanes in this study, but also others. This study did not include flight test evaluation, another recommendation Systems Technology suggested to validate the simulations for a follow-on research effort, Klyde said.

Concerning working with NASA, he said the company experienced unexpected but welcome results from their work.

"There was a lot more visibility [for the company] than we expected. Usually we do research and present results and researchers on the other end are interested in the technical data. However, this received a lot more play in the media than we expected. The reaction to our work is good and the work is getting so much notice," Klyde said.

This work is characteristic of the kinds of things that can happen for a company once it has proven that its ideas work, he said. Once people work with the company on one idea, other ideas are easier because often times "there are people at the centers to bounce ideas off of," he said.

SBIR is the primary way small businesses can tap government dollars to fund new ideas and concepts, Klyde said. Prior to the introduction of those funds in the 1980s, it was more of a competitive process among all companies regardless of size, said Klyde, a 22-year veteran of the SBIR process with Systems Technology.

SBIR agreements also present opportunities to build relationships among companies, he said.

"It is easier to work with people than against them," he said. "We know what to do and we have learned to germinate partnerships with universities and other businesses. We had The Boeing Company as a sub contractor on one project and we also work with other small businesses like us."

His advice to companies just starting off in SBIR projects: "Start early. If you wait until the last minute you can get overwhelmed if you have never done it before," he said.

The Boy Scouts of America would appreciate his other recommendation, "Do your homework, and be prepared."

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Page Last Updated: August 15th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator