Taking flight

This is not your father’s livestock trailer.

The 34-foot mobile test station delivered to Cessna Aircraft on Friday marks the completion of a year-long Hillsboro Industries project that challenged the trailer manufacturer to design and build “the most customized unit we have ever built,” according to Tom Kaufman, project director.

Employees have met the challenge, added Bob Klein, Hillsboro Industries president and general manager.

“Our employees did a great job with all the technology and specialized design and equipment that went into this unit,” Klein said. “I think they are proud of what we’ve done, and they should be.”

Cessna plans to use the trailer as a self-contained mobile station for recording data during airplane flight tests, according to Kaufman.

“Instead of recording data on the plane’s instruments, it will be sent down to the trailer,” Kaufman said. “What drives the need for this unit is the need for a lot of free and open air space. It is difficult to do some types of tests that require a great deal of air space in the Wichita area.

“An example might be some sort of dive test,” he added. “You don’t want to be spearing any commercial airplanes on the way down. So, my understanding is that this unit will be taken to Roswell, New Mexico. I don’t know if that location is significant or not.”

Kaufman’s involvement in the project began when a group of Cessna officials stopped by the Hillsboro Industries booth at the Kansas State Fair last year.

“At that time, it was just a casual conversation,” he said. “They came to us with a design concept in December. They wanted an office area and a lab area. We worked through a lot of details and submitted a bid.”

Cessna provided the basic specifications, but it was Kaufman’s job to flesh out those details. He decided to seek some help.

“I went to an architect I had worked with before to spec out the interior,” he said. “For example, Cessna wanted the walls to be cloth and Velcro compatible. The floor is raised several inches above the actual trailer floor. All the wiring and air conditioning is under the floor.”

The design is a pure original, Kaufman said. There is no other trailer like it. The shell is the company’s top-of-the-line Endura model, made entirely of aluminum.

The front 25 feet is office space that houses cabinets for several computer stations and is designed for four to six occupants. The walls are insulated, and the test station is capable of supplying its own electricity and air conditioning for up to 48 hours.

It carries a four-ton cooling unit that swings out from the side of the trailer. The 15-kilowatt generator is gasoline powered and can be run off the 100-gallon fuel tank or from a remote tank. It is rolled out of the main station in order to provide the quiet and vibration-free interior necessary for carrying out critical tests.

“This was very interesting job,” Kaufman said. “It was a lot of work and involved a tremendous number of details.”

The biggest challenge was to package everything: the air conditioning, the generator, the wiring. He said keeping the air-conditioning compressor units from surging too much when they kicked on was a major factor to overcome.

Local electrical contractor Elcon Services installed the wiring in the trailer, and Paul’s Inc. of Hesston provided the heating, ventilation and air conditioning expertise.

“There is some pretty serious electrical equipment in here,” Kaufman said. “This generator would power a typical house easily.”

Though neither he nor Klein would offer specifics, they agreed the test station is the most expensive unit Hillsboro Industries has ever sold. And, certainly, it is the most customized trailer ever built in the four years the model has been on the market.

“Most of the people who buy Endura trailers are people who show livestock,” Klein said. “We have built a few units for companies to take their products to trade shows. This unit is a big step toward diversifying into other markets.”

“We feel we can build off this,” Kaufman said. “We have been trying to diversify our market, not letting go of the agricultural market, but trying to branch out. As we all know, the agriculture customer base is decreasing each year.”

Kaufman said the trailer passed a battery of tests and a walkthrough by Cessna officials. He said Cessna was “thrilled” with the completed unit.

“It has gone well,” he said. “I am very pleased with how things have flowed. But the real proof is in the pudding, as they say. Once it’s out in the field and working for a year, then I’ll breathe a little easier.”

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