Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Lakehurst, N.J. –
Even before encountering an adversary, the warfighter’s equipment is exposed to the impacts of the environment, ranging from the extremes of the desert heat to extreme cold of the frozen arctic tundra to the sunny, salty waters in the middle of the ocean. However, thanks to the Environmental Test Lab (ETL) at Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Lakehurst, New Jersey (NAWCAD LKE), these situations can be simulated to ensure mission readiness and address potential issues.
he biggest thing we can offer is all of our capabilities. We can perform full environmental testing, proof load testing, as well as custom testing and consultation,” lab manager Jonathan Myers said, noting that his team can help with not only developing prototypes of different items, but also testing the finished products before and even after they are sent to the fleet. “We’re basically a tool for programs along the entire process of development.”
The ETL has conducted testing for Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) Program Offices, the Army, Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, Federal Aviation Administration, and is open to supporting new customers.
“We are providing a valuable product and I think our numbers show it,” Myers said, noting that billable hours for the lab increased from 80 in 2018 to more than 11,000 in 2023, all of which is done with just a four-person team.
“Not only do programs save on travel costs, but it is more convenient as well. The ability to simply ‘walk down the hall’ is immeasurable. Customers can participate in testing and witness firsthand any issues that arise. They can then work directly with us to design and implement solutions in real time and immediately resume testing,” Myers said.
Myers said addressing issues faster allows for a quicker turnaround, saving time and money. By providing their services faster than outside labs, it can lead to more business for his team.
“That’s the biggest problem we see. Programs come here, and they say, ‘I didn’t know you existed’,” Myers said. “So, the more people that come through, the better.”
This year, the ETL added a Multi-Function Climactic Chamber (MFCC) to its environmental testing abilities. The chamber can reach temperatures between minus 95 F and 355 F. In addition, the machine can replicate 100 percent relative humidity, rainfall of up to 12 inches per hour, salt fog and solar lighting with >1600 W/m2 irradiance (the International Space Station receives about 1,500 W/m2 irradiance from the sun in space).
The lab also has three other climatic chambers, one altitude chamber, two vibration tables, a drip test machine, a certified lightweight shock test machine, and three proof load frames, which allow for load testing, drop testing, and reliability cycle testing.
Chris Snyder, environmental test engineer, first came to the lab on a three-month rotation that he extended to six months before joining full-time three years ago because he found the work so fulfilling.
“It was a lot of hands-on experience, which I enjoyed. The other thing I really enjoyed was you got to see the whole program lifecycle, from an initial design to testing, finding issues to troubleshoot, giving them possible solutions and implementing those solutions, then testing them again with a better overall product.”
More equipment is coming over the next two years, including a new vibration table with supporting equipment, as well as two new proof load machines.
“We are receiving a lot of investment in the lab. We’re slowly but surely trying to expand as much as we can to support our customers,” Myers said.
Adam Hochron is a communications specialist with Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Lakehurst, New Jersey.