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Compact device moves helos around carriers

New and improved MANTIS offers flexibility on hangar deck

Jan. 12, 2013 - 11:58AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 12, 2013 - 11:58AM  |  
A support equipment technician teaches an aviation boatswain's mate to operate the Multi-Aircraft Nose and Tail Interface System aboard the carrier Harry S. Truman in October. All carriers could get the MANTIS later this year, along with big-deck amphibious ships and some littoral combat ships
A support equipment technician teaches an aviation boatswain's mate to operate the Multi-Aircraft Nose and Tail Interface System aboard the carrier Harry S. Truman in October. All carriers could get the MANTIS later this year, along with big-deck amphibious ships and some littoral combat ships (MCSN Lorenzo Burleson / Navy)
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A new type of motorized dolly is expected to make it easier to move helicopters around an aircraft carrier.

The improved Multi-Aircraft Nose and Tail Interface System, or MANTIS, is smaller than tractors and tow bars currently used to maneuver helicopters, as well as older MANTIS devices. As such, it's easier for aviation boatswain's mates to maneuver the helicopter into tight spaces in a hangar.

The push for the new equipment began in 2008 and is coupled with the fleet's shift to the MH-60R and MH-60S Seahawk helicopters.

"It gives you a lot of flexibility to move a helicopter in a hangar deck," said John Martenak, head of the support equipment engineering division for Naval Air Systems Command at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

It was tested on the carrier Harry S. Truman in October, and it could end up as a fixture on other carriers by this fall, with two per ship. It's also expected to go to big-deck amphibious ships and Freedom-class littoral combat ships, with one MANTIS apiece, Martenak said.

The C-shaped MANTIS is 100 inches long by 70 inches wide. In the opening is a hydraulic arm that connects to and then lifts the tail wheel. The arm is under 14 inches at its tallest point, or short enough to fit under the helicopter's body and low add-ons near the landing gear.

It has four motorized coasters to drive about the deck, and it's controlled from a panel with buttons and joysticks that hangs from a sailor's shoulders like a backpack worn backward. A tether between the controls and dolly allows for communication.

"It's almost like playing a video game. The way you push the joystick is the way the vehicle moves," Martenak said.

An operator, typically an aviation boatswain's mate, would use the controls to move close to the aircraft's wheels. Once in position, the operator would then press a button to lift that wheel up. From there, the helo can be moved into place.

When they're not in use, two of the devices can be stacked on top of each other to save floor space. One MANTIS can get atop the other either by driving up a ramp or by being lifted into place.

Since it's battery-powered, it doesn't create emissions in the hangar. A single charge can last about a day, and it takes around eight hours to fully recharge. It doesn't need much maintenance beyond servicing its hydraulic system, Martenak said.

The MANTIS was well-received aboard Truman, he added.

"The fleet really appreciated the maneuverability, the controllability of using the joystick and the ability to maneuver the helicopter in tight spaces," he said.

NAVAIR is looking at using the MANTIS on other aircraft, as well. The device has also qualified on the MH-60B, and the Coast Guard has tested it on the HH-65 Dolphin.

The Curtiss Wright Flow Control Co., which developed the MANTIS, said it can fit at least 40 types of aircraft, including nine in the Navy or Marine Corps' inventory. That includes fixed-wing aircraft, such as F/A-18 Hornet variants and the AV-8B Harrier.

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