Team Dover tests innovative drone program

  • Published
  • By Jeremy Larlee
  • 512th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The T-tail of a C-5 M Super Galaxy aircraft extends a towering 65 feet in the air, a height that can make performing maintenance a difficult and dangerous task.

Team Dover in cooperation with a civilian aviation company tested out a drone program for an autonomous aircraft inspection project in a hangar on Dover AFB, Jan. 22-24, 2024.

The program involved mapping out a path for the drone to fly around the aircraft and take numerous high-resolution photographs.

“There are 34 points of interest, and that information is fed automatically back in another system within 10 seconds,” said Ken Jones, 436th Mission Generation Group process improvement and innovation manager. “The idea is to keep us from having to put Airmen in harm’s way up on the wings and tail.”

The new program also saves time. Traditional inspections that require personnel to use a harness can take hours, said Jones. The drone completed its job in about 10 minutes.

Jones added that the drone program can also be a benefit to discovering and fixing issues before they become a problem.

“Our maintainers do a great job, but that inspection just lives in their head,” he said. “This allows us to archive the results of the inspection and compare the results over the years.”

Maintainers can then compare those inspections to identify potential issues ahead of time, said Jones.

“This thing is very precise,” he said. “It can detect a loose panel, missing rivet, or paint elimination.”

David Murphy, a senior test pilot for Near Earth Autonomy, said this was the first time he had seen a C-5 in a hangar. He said his company has worked extensively with C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, but they are in the learning stages with the C-5.

“The challenge with the C-5 is building a new computer-aided design model,” he said. “Getting the model loaded into the system is a tricky process.”

Once the wrinkles are ironed out, this innovative drone program could potentially be a game changer in the aircraft maintenance arena.

Jones said Dover is the perfect place to test the drone.

“We’re always looking for the best way to do things here,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation to be able to do it better and safer.”