The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s (NAWCAD) cargo and special operations team successfully demonstrated March 22 a new cargo net that could go a long way to helping Marines survive a crash.
Following several incidents in recent years in which loose bags have injured Marines or, in the case of a water crash, blocked egress from the aircraft, the Navy tasked the NAWCAD cargo team with coming up with a more effective way for Marines to secure their gear.
The cargo team’s solution is the Common Cargo Net, an altered version of a net that is already available but mostly unknown and unused by the fleet.
Designed to quickly and easily secure up to 2,500 pounds of cargo in the MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor and CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters, the net promises to keep bags from flying loose regardless of how the fuselage is oriented. The current standard method of securing cargo bags calls for strapping them down, but sea bags—the standard duffel used by Marines—and day packs can still easily become dislodged from beneath straps in the event the fuselage rolls over during a violent crash.
The cargo team showcased as much during a unique demonstration at the Aviation Survival Training Center (ASTC) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
One of eight Navy training centers dedicated to aircrew water survival, the ASTC houses a large pool used to train Sailors and Marines on how to evacuate an aircraft in the event of a ditching. A crane is used to lower a 6,400-pound “dunk tank” designed to replicate a fuselage—officially known as a Modular Egress Training Simulator (METS)—into the pool and rotate it, simulating an aircraft ditching.
Typically, the METS capsule is filled with people who are undergoing survival training. But during the cargo team’s demo, the dunk tank was instead stacked inside with up to 36 sea bags secured by a Common Cargo Net.
In two ditching simulations with the cargo assembled in different configurations, the net succeeded in preventing the bags from flying loose once the capsule rolled over in the pool.
To make clear how the net improves on current procedure, the team then secured the bags using standard straps, only for the cargo to immediately roll loose once the METS flipped and the straps lost tension.
“That’s pretty much what we were expecting to happen,” said Michele Hoefer, a cargo team engineer.
During a ditching, not only can loose, floating bags become hazardous projectiles, but they can also present obstacles to disoriented Marines trying to escape a sinking fuselage.
“Just putting a strap over something doesn’t mean it’s tied down,” said Todd Anderson, cargo team lead. “It might need another strap depending on the angle. With this net, I don’t have to figure that out. I put it over, I zip it, reef it, and tighten it down, and I know that I can restrain 2,500 pounds in this net.”
Several Marines with the Marine Corps Training and Education Command (TECOM) were on hand for the demonstration. Prior to the pool demo, the cargo team had displayed the net back at its hangar, where they took down one configuration and assembled and secured another in roughly 15 minutes.
Hoefer called the nets “a bridge” between functionality and something that would be quick and easy for Marines to use in combat zones.
The nets have already received flight clearance for the V-22 and H-53, and the next step for the cargo team is to complete testing for some additional cargo configurations, Hoefer said.
The team plans to travel to fleet Marines and provide direct training, including as part of a “train-the-trainer” event with Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron (MAWTS) 1 instructors at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, Arizona, Hoefer said.
The team has already completed some initial testing with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 166, which received a shipment of nets prior to its May deployment from MCAS Miramar, California.
Jeff Newman is a staff writer and contributing editor to the Naval Aviation News magazine.