AFRL Creates Safer Synthetic Winch Cable for Cargo Aircraft

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL)’s Advanced Power Technology Office (APTO) has successfully designed, developed and tested a synthetic winch cable for military transport aircraft.

The new cable replaces existing cables while being 40% cheaper and significantly lighter. In addition, the synthetic cable does not recoil if it fractures, making it a safer alternative for Airmen on the flightline.​

The U.S. Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster III air lifter fleet currently uses winch cables made of steel to pull pallets, vehicles and other items onto the aircraft from the ground via the aft ramp. Unlike the new synthetic cable, this cable can experience dangerous snapback upon breakage, which can injure personnel and damage aircraft.

Measuring 280 feet, the current steel cable weighs in at a hefty 80 pounds compared to the new synthetic cable’s 14 pounds, equating to an 83% lighter cable. Removing excess weight results in less fuel consumption and improved mission capabilities.

During the first quarter of 2020, six sets of cables will be installed on two aircraft at three different operational bases. The USAF Air Mobility Command (AMC) and the C-17 Program Office will evaluate them for approval as a suitable substitute.

Upon approval, the fleet will be upgraded with the new synthetic cables and will become an Air Force-approved, commercially available item that can be procured for all C-17 aircraft.

Operational evaluation of new synthetic winch cables. (Courtesy photo)
Operational evaluation of new synthetic winch cables. (Courtesy photo)

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