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The Air Force Built a Robot to Wash F-16s

  • The Air Force built a robot that can wash an F-16 fighter jet in just 1 hour.
  • It typically takes a crew of four airmen up to 6 hours to do the same job.
  • The Jet Washing Robot could also save airmen from possible chemical agent exposure.

    The U.S. Air Force has unveiled a new robotic arm that’s designed to cut down on the time and manpower needed to clean a fighter jet.

    The arm can fully wash an F-16 Viper fighter jet in just 1 hour, saving major time and manpower. The technology will likely be ported to other aircraft, and could be useful to decontaminate aircraft exposed to dangerous chemical agents.

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    Texas National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing recently demonstrated the arm at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. Air Force images show the large robotic arm washing the Lone Star Gunfighters’ F-16 equipped with drop tanks.

    The Jet Washing Robot hosing down one of the F-16’s pylons.

    Texas Air National Guard

    It typically takes a team of four airmen up to 6 hours to wash a fighter jet, but the robot can do it in just 1 hour, the 149th Wing says. That’s a manpower savings of up to 24 hours, and it also reduces the downtime for a freshly cleaned fighter jet from 2 days to just 1.

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    AFWERX, an Air Force initiative for inspiring innovation across the entire branch, developed the robot, which the wing proudly calls its Jet Washing Robot. AFWERX encourages airmen and members of the Space Force to innovate new ways of doing things, and also invests in commercial enterprises that could have military applications down the road.

    afwerx jet washing robot

    A newly cleaned fighter, courtesy the Jet Washing Robot.

    Texas Air National Guard

    The Jet Washing Robot could play an even more important role in wartime. The robot—or one of its descendants—could save up to four airmen from possible chemical agent exposure.

    The F-16 frequently serves as a close air support platform, flying low-altitude missions in support of friendly troops, and it’s not inconceivable that a fighter could get “slimed” by an enemy chemical agent. Jets might also need cleaning if the air base itself is attacked with chemical weapons—especially persistent agents designed to shut the base down until everything is decontaminated.


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