aircraft engine repairUS Air Force Trials New Type of Power Generator

Hybrid energy is becoming increasingly common in the automotive industry. Could it be the next big step in mobile power generation?

There is a well-worn saying in the US Air Force that you can’t have air power without ground power. And at Edwards Airforce Base, this is a fact that becomes immediately obvious. The immense military base is home to the US Air Force Test Pilot School, the Air Force Test Center, NASA’s Flight Research Center and numerous other facilities.

Anyone who is fortunate enough to be granted a tour of the 308,000 acre facility will notice that the only thing that outnumbers the planes is the diesel generators. They are literally everywhere, and to get each plane in the air and doing what it needs to do to protect the nation relies on having a reliable source of power at ground level.

Hybrid power

Where better, then, to put a new generation of power delivery systems through their paces? Last month, a team of researchers from Air Force Materiel Command led by Senior Master Sergeant Jason Tilley of the Aerospace Ground Support Equipment Working Group arrived at Edwards to try out the new Hybrid Flightline Generator Technology Pathfinder and see how it performed in the field.

The generator uses a conventional diesel engine in combination with a bank of batteries. This means the engine is smaller, and the unit is quieter, lighter and runs for longer without the need for refuelling.

Real world simulations

The idea of the trial was to provide some real-world simulations and see if the new type of generator would be as successful in practice as it had been under lab conditions. For this reason, the Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) crew were fully involved in the tests. These are the people who use generators day in and day out during aircraft maintenance, so they are in the perfect position to assess the new technology.

Positive feedback

The conclusions from the trials are still being assessed, but the general feedback from both the researchers and the AGE crews who took part in the trial was positive. Convenience is a key factor, particularly in an environment where engineers are likely to be working under pressure. The new generator weighs in at just 4,300 lb (around two metric tons), less than half the weight of its predecessor.

AGE crew were also impressed by the reduction in noise and smell from the Hybrid. Being able to hear what is going on around you is important in any industry. But for US Air Force ground crews, it could be critical. Sergeant Tilley remarked: “One drawback to current diesel generators is that they’re loud; hearing conservation is a benefit with the hybrid generator.” He went on to add that when they work all day around the current diesel generators, maintenance crew members: “lie down at night and still hear the engine running in their heads.” The fact that the hybrid generator has lower emissions also means staff do not conclude the day with their clothes smelling of smoke.

On the whole, the trial was considered a success. The developers are now working on the next steps towards a production model that will revolutionise power generation in the US Air Force and potentially, beyond.