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High Capability Portable Foreign Object Debris (FOD) Removal System for Naval Aircraft



TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Air Platform, Materials/Processes

ACQUISITION PROGRAM: PMA 257 AV-8B Harrier Program Office

OBJECTIVE: Develop a high capability, portable, foreign object debris (FOD) removal system to address a capability gap between larger systems and manual removal to positively impact foreign object damage rates and increase readiness, safety, reliability, and provide cost avoidance.

DESCRIPTION: The AV-8B currently has the highest FOD damage rate in the U.S. DoD inventory which incurs a cost of more than $100M per year in engine removal, rebuild, and reinstallation, as well as decreased readiness and safety. To date, NAVAIR has experienced more than eight Class 'A' mishaps in the AV-8B due to FOD, and an extremely high missed opportunity cost in terms of sorties and training. There are two envisioned uses for a FOD removal system: in the environment adjacent to the aircraft, and domestically within the aircraft. In terms of the environment adjacent to the aircraft, current FOD removal units (large trucks) are not suitable to remove FOD around and under aircraft, in the hangar, at the outdoor and indoor high power facilities, and while deployed to land-based airfields. In fact for land-based airfields, the current standard of FOD removal consists of "FOD walks" where personnel physically walk the flight line and visually observe the airfield surface. It can be at these obscured areas where FOD collects and can be ingested by the engine even under low power settings. Domestic object damage due to objects found inside the engine or aircraft can be just as damaging as FOD. Domestic FOD could be produced from maintenance action (e.g. small tools or bolts fall into enclosed engine compartment, or incorrect assembly leaves a bolt unsecured). At this time, manual procedures are used to collect potential domestic FOD. If domestic FOD is identified (e.g. dropped washers, nuts, etc.) and can’t be recovered, the procedure to retrieve the object is to remove the engine from the aircraft and inspect potential locations until the domestic FOD is retrieved. A system that can remove small sized FOD and have greater accessibility than manual methods is sought. The current mechanical and manual removal systems can remove “large FOD” (0.5 inches or more and weighing over 0.5 g). Test data has shown that objects smaller than “large FOD” can cause significant damage to rotating components of the engine. A FOD removal system that maintains performance of the current systems but can also remove objects smaller than current system capability is envisioned. A successful development effort will result in closing a significant FOD removal gap currently present in the AV-8B and other legacy platforms.

An innovative modular system capable of providing a flexible solution for FOD removal, both on the flight line and in aircraft compartments where FOD collections are needed. The desired size of FOD for removal should be smaller than the current sizes and mass given above. Units will need to be modular with envisioned size being as large as a hand cart for large areas and have the appropriate attachments for confined areas. In all contexts, a single person should be able to operate the system, even when diving into engine inlet necessary. In terms of power draw, the unit should able to be converted from gas powered engine for field use, to 115/220V/3-Phase electrical power for enclosed spaces to maximize flexibility and portability. The units would also need to be non-reactive in the normal aircraft hangar operating environment in-and-around the engine bay and inside the aircraft to ensure safety of personnel and equipment. Such environments can reach high temperatures with gas fumes or other combustible debris, in proximity of areas to be accessed. These units would also need to be robust enough and able to be used in austere sites where aircraft operate away from airfields with mature anti-FOD programs and facilities. Units should be able to be used at unprepared airfields which present frequent FOD hazards to the fleet. No system currently exists that is capable of the modularity and flexibility in terms of power source and environmental considerations. Collected FOD should be able to be analyzed in their as-discovered condition (not demolished) so that it can be identified and documented against any known FOD.

Developing, maturing and implementing an innovative vacuum system will result in a comprehensive FOD mitigation that will help Marines and Navy personnel achieve the goal of reducing the FOD rate by 50% (1.7 incidents per 1000 flight hours (FHs) to 0.8 incidents per 1000 FHs). This will result in a cost avoidance of approximately $50M annually. It is anticipated that approximately 8 Ready Based Aircraft (RBA) will be added to flight availability annually due to reduced maintenance time. The development of new attachments and techniques, tactics and procedures (TTPs) with the units will also reduce the probability of mishap due to internal FOD by giving the maintainers the ability to remove debris with the engine and other components on wing.

Coordination with aircraft and engine original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) is strongly recommended, but is not required.

PHASE I: Design and demonstrate the feasibility of a foreign object debris removal system which can be used in-and-around the aircraft and in the engine bay areas in accordance with the parameters outlined in the Description. Feasibility of FOD removal both in confined areas and non-confined areas must be demonstrated.

PHASE II: Further develop the foreign object debris removal system prototype as well as AV-8B aviation-specific prototype attachments and demonstrate their ability to clean FOD such as what might be found in engine bays, under the ejection seats, under the aircraft and its capability to retrieve and/or remove dropped tools, fasteners, and similar material.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Complete any final design modifications and provide needed support to fully transition and integrate the developed foreign object removal system with custom attachments for commercial and Navy applications, and provide training to users. Private Sector Commercial Potential: Civilian and other aviation applicability is limitless but specifically could assist any sensitive maintenance or rebuild facility where FOD or debris is a problem. All aircraft, civilian or military, have an associate FOD cost and if utilized properly, that cost can be driven down by tailored FOD-mitigation technologies such that these units could provide.


  • Airport Foreign Object Debris (FOD) Management, Advisory Circular. (2010). U. S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA),
  • Foreign Object Debris and Foreign Object Damage (FOD) Prevention for Aviation Maintenance & Manufacturing, 13 November 2007,

KEYWORDS: FOD; Safety; Maintenance; Cost Avoidance; Readiness; Durability

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