AMC paves ground for Aerial Port of the Future

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Approximately 25 scientists and researchers from Air Mobility Command, Air Force, Army, Navy and Department of Defense research labs visited the 436th Aerial Port Squadron Feb. 6-9, 2017, to kick off a new initiative: The Aerial Port of the Future.

The visit was the second of a three-stop tour of port operation facilities around the country in an effort to learn current operational requirements and processes, see how Third Offset Technology can improve aerial port efficiency and safety, and conceptualize the impacts such improvements could have on AMC’s rapid global mobility and the DOD as a whole, said Dr. Donna Senft, AMC chief scientist and Aerial Port of the Future project lead.

According to www.defense.gov, the “Third Offset Strategy describes [DOD efforts] meant to create substantial U.S. military advantage based on advanced technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence combined with new operational concepts.”

Senft said, the inspiration for the project came from the Air Force Future Operating Concept, which contained a vignette of someone’s personal vision of what aerial port operations might look like in the year 2035. This brief description of advanced computer programming and autonomous robotics set in motion a concerted effort to research current aerial port operations and develop a ‘roadmap’ toward a safer and more efficient Aerial Port of the Future.

“That was somebody’s dream, but it got us thinking,” Senft said. “We wanted to get the experts in the science and technology community and the acquisitions community together and see what we could do to improve aerial port operations. A big part of that is looking at the science of autonomy and improved automation. We asked ourselves, could we take some of this emerging technology and apply it to aerial port operations?”

From there, a study team was established and several trips were planned. The first stop was at Port of Virginia, Norfolk, Virginia, where the team saw autonomous cargo handling equipment used by the commercial operation.

They then visited Dover AFB and the 436th APS, the largest aerial port in the DOD, commonly called the ‘Super Port.’ For the final leg, the team intends to visit three Amazon warehouses in the Seattle, Washington, area to observe the current cutting-edge robotics and command and control programming, Senft said.

“We selected Dover AFB because of its Super Port status,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jessica Coombs, Headquarters AMC passenger and fleet policy branch superintendent. “This is the biggest AMC base and port on the East Coast. When we think of workload and get-it-done initiative and motivation, we think of Dover. What they’re doing right now is basically setting the baseline impression for what we’re capable of doing as aerial porters in our mission for DOD.”

While here, they visited every section within the squadron, interacted with Airmen as they demonstrated core tasks and followed a piece of cargo from initial acceptance through processing, pallet buildup, K-Loader transportation and aircraft upload and offload.

“This particular visit is really unique, because these researchers did not know what we do until we showed them here at Dover,” Coombs said. “This aerial port team has been outstanding in exposing them to the rigors of what it takes to be an aerial porter.”

Coombs acted as a liaison between the researchers and squadron members. She said her 21 years of experience in all levels and positions of air transportation uniquely qualified her for the duty.

“There were a lot of great ideas being generated in the sidebar conversations and throughout the whole visit,” Coombs said. “[The researchers] got to interact with the port team: the leadership, the young Airmen and the fired-up NCOs. Airmen came up to us on several occasions with ideas for improvement, and at this point we’re encouraging all ideas.”

The Aerial Port of the Future team invited AMC’s aerial port Airmen to share improvement ideas at their SharePoint address: https://cs3.eis.af.mil/sites/OO-LG-AM-88/APOTF/SitePages/Home.aspx.

“This visit [to Dover AFB] in particular has really invigorated our team,” Senft said. “We’re just coming up with all sorts of ideas. We really appreciate the time Team Dover put into our visit and their effort to put these tours together to show us how they do their work every day.”