TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, PA. - An engineer here has earned a patent providing Army Special Forces with an easily detachable trailer mount.

Gene Curran, a mechanical engineer in the Production Engineering Directorate, said Special Forces needed a generator trailer system that could be lifted by helicopter, but also had a platform that could be quickly separated from the trailer and transported separately.

This required a special mount that could withstand tremendous upward forces generated when helicopters lift the systems.

He began working on the mount design about five years ago for the Special Forces' 112th Signal Brigade at Fort Bragg, S.C. The new mount would go with the depot-designed Universal Power Pack Tactical trailer Generator system.

This power platform is a Humvee-towed tactical trailer system which can be configured for generators, including one or two each 18-kilowatt generators or 10-kilowatt Tactical Quiet Generators.

"We wanted to use ball mounts similar to your standard trailer hitch ball,while off-the-shelf items were great for downward, horizontal or shear forces, tended to uncouple when large upward or separation forces existed," Curran said.

Curran developed a concept to encapsulate the standard hitch ball mount inside a cone shape with a round top section. The ball was held by two quick-disconnect pins that were placed into the mount below the large diameter of the ball when assembled.

"The concept can also be used as a standard trailer ball hitch such as the ones used on your car or truck to tow a

trailer or boat," Curran said. "Its advantages are it is nearly impossible to pop open as sometimes commercial trailer hitches can do.

"It also has positive visual identification of being locked into place because you can see the pins through the mount when in place. In addition, it is a pure conical shape, and unlike other hitch receivers, will not collect dirt and dust which can cause other receivers to not properly seat."

He designed the system using Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) solids modeling to develop the concept, Finite Element Analysis computer stress analysis to make sure it was strong enough, and used Tobyhanna Army Depot's Rapid Prototype Machine to print a 3-D plastic model of the part for prototype development and fit test.

"The design was very simple, actually," Curran noted. "I was surprised we could not find this already existed commercially."

Curran said his design calls for an aluminum alloy, but it can be made of any material able to withstand the stresses of helicopter lifting and harsh field use. The system went through full military standard transportability, shock and vibration testing, as well as full environmental, sand and dust testing, at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md.

"We have a great engineering, CAE, and prototype group and it is never a one man show," Curran emphasized. "I came up with the initial concept and bounced it off our design team. We then worked with CAE personnel to print out the plastic model. When it all looked good, we consulted the Systems Integration and Support Directorate to verify they could actually make the item here. Everyone had great input which led to a successful final design."

The mounts have been manufactured since the initial UPP trailers were fielded about five years ago.

Curran said the same mounts have since been used on several variants of generator trailers designed for the program manager of Unmanned Aerial Systems and for the AN/TSC-93E Tactical Satellite System up armor redesign. The depot will field over 1,000 of the mounts on about 250 systems.

Curran encourages employees to develop ideas that not only benefit the warfighter, but may earn a patent. He says the process to earn a patent is worth it and that Production Engineering will assist employees.

"Production Engineering is always willing to help employees develop their ideas and associated engineering drawings and submit them, through our Legal Office, to the [U.S. Army CECOM Life Cycle Management Command's] patent office," Curran said.

Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department's largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the Armed Forces.

About 5,600 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania.

Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army CECOM Life Cycle Management Command. Headquartered at Fort Monmouth, N.J., the command's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.