Contract manufacturing  an airport pavement test vehicle

Posted by Tom McDevitt on Feb 17, 2016 8:00:00 AM


Back in the late 90s, The Rose Corporation fabricated the largest project in its history, a 1.4 million pound airport pavement test vehicle for the National Airport Pavement Test Facility. Located at the William J. Hughes Technical Center near Atlantic City, New Jersey, the National Airport Pavement Test Facility (NAPTF) provides high quality, accelerated test data from rigid and flexible pavements subjected to simulated aircraft traffic. Below is a photograph of our Rose Corporation employees at the dedication of the facility on April 12,  1999:


During the 1990s Boeing and Airbus were the two competing aircraft manufacturers in the world, and both companies researched the feasibility of a passenger aircraft larger than the Boeing 747, which was the largest airliner in operation at that time. Airbus subsequently launched a full-length double-deck aircraft, the A380, a decade later while Boeing decided the project would not be commercially viable and developed the third generation 747, Boeing 747-8, instead.

Part of the research that  Boeing was doing in conjunction with the FAA at that time was to determine if existing runways could handle aircraft that weighed in excess of 1 million pounds. This research created  the need to develop a machine that could simulate that much downward force and full-scale loading representing new generation heavy civil transport aircraft. Funding was provided jointly by the FAA (two-thirds) and the Boeing Company (one-third).

The rail-based test vehicle has two loading carriages that can be configured for up to six wheels per carriage with loads up to 333.75 kN (75,000 lbs) per wheel. The test vehicle is programmed for a controlled aircraft wander simulation. Up to 20 test wheels capable of being configured to represent two complete landing gear trucks.  Each truck having 1 to 10 wheels per truck. Wheel loads independently adjustable up to 75,000 pounds per wheel. Tests run to pavement failure with failure of a test section to occur in 1 year or less.  Speeds run to represent worst case pavement response and capability to conduct testing at 5 to 15 miles per hour plus the capability to run tests in both directions.  The testing accommodates lateral wander patterns typical of airport runway operations and features continuous and automatic operation of the test vehicle.

The 60-foot-wide test pavement provides two traffic lanes so that two gear configurations can be tested simultaneously. For example, a six-wheel B-777 gear can be tested in one lane and a four-wheel B-747 gear can be tested in the other lane. The tests will be run until all sections have completely failed.


Here is a close up image of the wheels on the test vehicle. It is surprising that the most downward force generated by an aircraft is not when it touches down to land, it is when it is taxiing. This is because the plane is still experiencing lift forces while landing, but not when it is taxiing.


Here is a photo of the side rails of the test vehicle. The length and width of the vehicle was over 60 feet and was engineered and fabricated to extremely tight measurement tolerances necessary to keep alignment to the rails.

The Rose Corporation is a Pennsylvania-based, WBENC-certified small business specializing in the manufacture of custom industrial fabrication, large-scale precision weldments, power generation equipment (including repairs), and more. The Rose Corporation’s most unique strength is our experience with delivery of specialized design expertise, along with an ability to help customers optimize manufacturability, reduce costs, and improve overall product quality.

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