The Starr Soft Support isolation system incorporates an automatically reconfigurable aircraft jack into NASA’s existing 1-Hertz isolators. This enables an aircraft to float in mid-air without the need for a critical lift during ground vibration testing (GVT), significantly reducing testing risk, time, and costs. Currently incorporating the most advanced technology available, the 60,000-pound-capacity (27-metric-ton) isolation system is used for weight and measurement tests, control-surface free-play tests, and structural mode interaction tests without the need for any major reconfiguration, often saving days of time and significantly reducing labor costs.

The Starr Soft Support isolation system consists of an aircraft-jacking device with three jacking points, each of which has an individual motor and accommodates up to 20,000 pounds (9 metric tons) for a total 60,000-pound (27-metric-ton) capacity. The system can be transported to the aircraft by forklift and placed at its jacking points using a pallet jack. The motors power the electric actuators, raising the aircraft above the ground until the landing gear can retract.

Inflatable isolators then deploy, enabling the aircraft to float in mid-air, simulating a 1-Hertz free-free boundary condition. Inflatable isolators have been in use at NASA for years, enabling aircraft to literally float unsupported for highly accurate GVT. These isolators must be placed underneath the aircraft for this to occur. Traditionally, this is achieved by a “critical lift” — a high-risk procedure in which a crane and flexible cord system are used to lift the aircraft. In contrast, the Starr Soft Support isolation system eliminates the need for critical lift by integrating the inflatable isolators into an aircraft jacking system. The system maintains vertical and horizontal isolating capabilities. The aircraft can be rolled onto the system, jacked up, and then the isolators can be inflated and positioned without any personnel needing to work underneath the aircraft. Also, the system accommodates changes in aircraft configuration, automatically adapting to changes in mass, and it can adjust the height of the isolators in one basic setup.

Dryden personnel used the Starr Soft Support system to successfully perform a GVT on an F-15 being structurally modified by Gulfstream, Dryden’s Gulfstream III used for science research and the crew exploration module and adaptor cone assembly.

This work was done by Starr Ginn of Dryden Flight Research Center. DRC-009-042