ARL mentors help West Point cadets create patent potential rock-penetrating scaling system

June 26, 2012

Story Highlights

  • West Point cadets mentored by ARL scientists.
  • Cadets conceived Kinetic Energy Penetrator, colloquially referred to as the "Batman design".
  • Penetrator is currently under patent review.

U.S. Military Academy cadets mentored by U.S. Army Research Laboratory scientists developed a potentially patentable anchoring system that has proved effective in scaling rough surfaces at high altitudes.

The Kinetic Energy Penetrator, colloquially referred to as the "Batman design," was conceived by cadets who sought guidance from ARL on their idea to create an apparatus that could penetrate into – rather than adhere to the surface of – whatever is to be scaled. In their case, it was a concrete wall that ascended 90 feet. The penetrator is currently under patent review.

Their invention was part of the requirements for the Service Academy Design Challenge, a three-year-old competition hosted by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to address Soldier requirements with a fresh perspective in a competitive format.

This year's competition, held in mid-April in Ohio, challenged military academy teams to develop a system to ascend an unknown vertical obstacle. Cadet teams received AFRL funding last fall, and pursued solutions as part of two of their Mechanical Engineering courses at West Point -- Engineering Design and Mechanical Systems Design.

"The essence of the West Point Cadet design was to be able to embed in a concrete wall a gun-launched projectile that would have attached to the projectile some sort of rope system. The projectile has to embed in the concrete wall at an elevation of approximately 90 feet without being able to dislodge the projectile from the wall, ensuring that the Soldiers who will scale the wall using this system can reach the top at 90 feet," explained team mentor Dr. Carl Krauthauser, a physical scientist within ARL's Weapons and Materials Research Directorate.

He said ARL's primary role in this project was helping the cadets assess the "feasibility of the design, the practical application, and then, where possible, experimental testing."

After giving some guidance as to what the projectile should look like as well as how it should be deployed, Krauthauser said WMRD mentors Richard Becker, Jerome Tzeng and Stephan Bilyk attempted modeling "to attain some notion of how this system would fly" and conducted field testing on Spesutie Island to demonstrate that the projectile design would penetrate and embed into the concrete and determine the muzzle velocity needed to achieve that goal.

"The entire system included a pneumatic cannon for launching, and a system of lead lines connected to climbing rope that enabled the projectile to function as a secure anchor and for the team to ascend via an electrical ascension device made by Atlas," said Lt. Col. Michael Benson, of West Point's Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering.

In a report describing their invention, the cadet team wrote, "In the current operating environment the warfighter may have to rapidly and tactically ascend a variety of surfaces in both assault and rescue operations. Currently no design exists that can provide the warfighter the versatility to conquer these obstacles. The mission of our design team was to create a system that allows troops, with their equipment, to scale buildings or mountain faces under a variety of conditions, efficiently and effectively."

They said this challenge pulled on virtually every course they've taken since they entered the Academy four years ago.

"[M]y specific portion of the project involved rapidly expanding gaseous fluids, moving projectiles, electrical systems, and stress transformations on thin-walled pressure vessels, so I used knowledge from literally every technical class I have ever taken," Cadet Brian Walter stated in a reflective essay.

"I managed to incorporate knowledge of materials science, fluid dynamics, stress/strain analysis, kinematic and dynamics, and certainly CAD into building a solution with my team," Cadet Ryan Freitag stated.

Previous challenges have included the requirement to design systems that allowed for long distance transit for a heavily outfitted, with the event competition held in New Mexico.

A few weeks prior to the competition, the Air Force disclosed the test site at a place called Calamityville, Ohio, near Wright Patterson Air Force Base. The actual site is in the picture with the West Point Cadet ascending a rope up a 90 foot tall reinforced concrete silo.


Last Update / Reviewed: June 26, 2012