Air Commando innovation saves AF millions

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ronald Brandtman, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron Airfield Systems supervisor, holds a piece of equipment that facilitates the testing of Air Traffic Control radios and equipment, Oct. 12, 2016 at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. Brandtman and members of the Airfield Systems team designed, built and implemented the part and saved the Air Force millions of dollars in the process. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/released)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ronald Brandtman, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron Airfield Systems supervisor, holds a piece of equipment that facilitates the testing of Air Traffic Control radios and equipment, Oct. 12, 2016 at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. Brandtman and members of the Airfield Systems team designed, built and implemented the part and saved the Air Force millions of dollars in the process. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz/released)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

As evidenced by the ‘Airmen Powered by Innovation’ and ‘Making Every Dollar Count’ initiatives, when the Air Force encounters a barrier, leaders trust their Airmen to deconstruct it.

Recently, this empowerment drove members of the 27th Special Operations Support Squadron Airfield Systems section to pare down and recreate a $20,000 piece of equipment for $20.

“This particular piece of technology allows us to interface with test equipment and Air Traffic Control radios in order to ensure the radios are functional,” said Staff Sgt. Ronald Brandtman, 27th SOSS Airfield Systems supervisor. “As you can imagine, if we put a bad radio online, it causes a whole lot of issues.”

The demand for new test facilitation technology arose when 70s-era ATC radios were upgraded to brand new models. The new radios required less wattage and increased the distance at which ATC Airmen were able to communicate with aircraft, but were incompatible with some of the older equipment.

“A commercial product would do the job,” Brandtman said, “but that equipment was going to cost the Air Force $20,000 each. Our AFSOC [Air Force Special Operations Command] functional manager told me he wanted us to build one ourselves, for less.”

The professionally-manufactured version, a small, wire-housing box, had connectors and capabilities that weren’t necessary for mission accomplishment at the 27th Special Operations Wing. Brandtman and the Airfield Systems team identified the essentials, trimmed the excess, and developed an effective prototype in three days.

“We had these metal boxes laying around,” Brandtman said. “The outer shell needed a barrier between itself and the audio line, so we improvised using silicon as a barrier. It looked terrible at first, but it was functional. We then took it to the AFREP [Air Force Repair Enhancement Program] office and asked them to make it look presentable before we sent it up; they set us up with plastic boxes to help finalize our prototype, and we completed our first official product.”

With an effective box in hand, the team spent the next week developing a supply list, building more plastic boxes, and drafting a detailed set of instructions to enable other bases to follow their cost-effective example.

“Currently, the product is being used here at the 27th SOW and at Hurlburt Field [Florida],” said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Camarena, 27th SOSS NCO-in charge of Airfield Systems. “After the Air Force Program Office reviews our version of the boxes and determines their effectiveness and reliability, 129 bases across the Air Force will likely adopt them.”

When comparing a cost of $20,000 to $20, these Air Commandos have saved the Air Force millions without diminishing mission capability.

“A lot of times, innovation is all about opportunity,” Brandtman said. “However, you also have to have the desire and the motivation to seize that opportunity. We were given a chance to make something better, we took advantage of it, and we succeeded as a team.”

Though immensely proud of their accomplishment, Camarena has come to expect a high level of ingenuity from his team during both extraordinary and mundane circumstances.

“I’ve been in this field for 12 years,” Camarena said. “This is one of the most exceptional and original groups of Airmen I’ve ever encountered.”