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Little Rock AFB Airman wins AMC Spark Tank competition

A man wearing a red hat and a U.S. Air Force Airman Battle Uniform stands to the left of a white rock that says 'Little Rock Aerial Delivery, I will be sure always.' The man holds a white plastic piece shaped like a 'U' in his right hand.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Travis Alton, 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron parachute rigger, displays the M-1 Parachute Release Timing Block Fail-Safe at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., Nov. 15, 2018. Alton won Air Mobility Command’s first Phoenix Spark Tank competition at the Airlift/Tanker Association Symposium for developing the fail-safe, coined the “Alton Block,” which is supposed to prevent parachutes from being detached from cargo too early. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Mercedes Taylor)

Two hands hold a white plastic piece in each hand against a red background directly next to a gray metal block on the right side.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Travis Alton, 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron parachute rigger, secures an M-1 Parachute Release Timing Block Fail-Safe, to an M-1 Parachute Release Device at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., Nov. 15, 2018. Alton won Air Mobility Command’s first Phoenix Spark Tank competition at the Airlift/Tanker Association Symposium for developing the fail-safe to prevent parachutes from being detached from cargo too early. The block is projected to save the Air Force $1.6 million on training load damages if approved for use. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Mercedes Taylor)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --

At Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, the 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron aerial delivery shop is responsible for providing parachute support for the Home of Combat Airlift. Although the Airmen ensure their work is of high caliber, an issue the shop and the rigger community across the Air Force runs into is the premature release of parachutes and the subsequent destruction of cargo attached to the parachutes.

Luckily, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Travis Alton, 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron parachute rigger, has come up with a solution for this problem.

Alton won Air Mobility Command’s first Phoenix Spark Tank competition at the Airlift/Tanker Association Symposium at Grapevine, Texas, Oct. 27, 2018. Against 73 other competitors, Alton won for his development of the M-1 Parachute Release Timing Block Fail-Safe, coined by local leadership as the “Alton Block.”

The block would attach to the M-1 Parachute Release Device, which acts like a kitchen timer to release parachutes, and prevent it from dropping before the timer is done. Typically, the M-1 Parachute Release Device would immediately begin a count down after cargo is released, but then drop before the timer is done. The timing block is supposed to drop once the timer has run out, releasing the parachutes after making contact with the ground.

“I was TDY at a Malfunction Review Board at Ft. Lee, Virginia, earlier this year when I came up with the idea,” Alton said. “While there, we kept talking about this issue and I had gotten to the point where I had just wanted to fix it. I went back to my hotel room and started drawing up plans for this device.”

Using his background in computer mechanics, Alton was able to develop a viable solution. When he returned home, he used a 3D printer to get a better visual of his idea and pitched his idea to his coworkers. 

“Before I enlisted in the Air Force, I was a Computer Numeric Control machinist,” Alton said. “CNC uses the same concept as a 3D printer. I understood how CNC worked, but I didn’t know how to write the code. I taught myself how to write it and manipulate objects in computer-assisted design software to be able to build things with a 3D printer.”

With his skills and resources readily available, the process of creating the “Alton Block” has taken a total of four months. The block has been function tested from the top of a crane and is awaiting approval to test out of an aircraft.

The block is projected to cost approximately $1 with a cost savings across the Department of Defense.

“We predict this will have a huge impact at Little Rock AFB,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Bruce Halbert, 19th LRS A-Flight operations superintendent. “About once a month, we run into the issue when heavy loads. With the ‘Alton Block,’ we could prevent approximately $8,000 in damages.”

“The Air Force spent $1.6 million on training load damages,” Alton added. “If the piece works the way it’s supposed to, it will cut that cost down to zero. The U.S. Army is also looking to use this piece for their cargo as well.”

Although Alton believes his solution to preventing damage to Air Force assets is simple, the process serves as an example of how backgrounds and diversified interests can be applied to benefit the military as a whole.

It wasn’t my intention to win the Spark Tank competition, I just wanted to fix something that has been an issue for a while,” Alton said. “If anything, I hope this process will help people look forward into their work processes and see how they can improve their workplaces.”

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