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AMC TES tests AMC Phoenix Spark winning innovation

AMC Test and Evaluation Captain Dave G. Peter led the test plan discussion for the 2019 AMC Spark Tank winning innovation, the M-1 Timer Block Fail-Safe Mechanism with test team members, Technical Sergeant Wesley Lankford and Operations Analyst Jeremy Kramer prior to test execution at Little Rock Air Force Base, AR. (U.S. Air Force photo by Visual Information Specialist Lisa Elmo-Henske)

AMC Test and Evaluation Captain Dave G. Peter led the test plan discussion for the 2019 AMC Spark Tank winning innovation, the M-1 Timer Block Fail-Safe Mechanism with test team members, Technical Sergeant Wesley Lankford and Operations Analyst Jeremy Kramer prior to test execution at Little Rock Air Force Base, AR. (U.S. Air Force photo by Visual Information Specialist Lisa Elmo-Henske)

AMC Test and Evaluation Test Directors observed a heavy-equipment cargo airdrop testing the 2019 AMC Spark Tank winning innovation, the M-1 Timer Block Fail-Safe Mechanism, at Little Rock Air Force Base, AR in February 2019.   (U.S. Air Force photo by Visual Information Specialist Lisa Elmo-Henske)

AMC Test and Evaluation Test Directors observed a heavy-equipment cargo airdrop testing the 2019 AMC Spark Tank winning innovation, the M-1 Timer Block Fail-Safe Mechanism, at Little Rock Air Force Base, AR in February 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Visual Information Specialist Lisa Elmo-Henske)

AMC Test and Evaluation Test Directors Mr. James Bonn, Master Sergeant William Gilmer, Master Sergeant Robert Morada, and Technical Sergeant Wesley Lankford inspect the 2019 AMC Spark Tank winning innovation, the M-1 Timer Block Fail-Safe Mechanism following airdrop testing at Little Rock Air Force Base, AR in February 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Visual Information Specialist Lisa Elmo-Henske)

AMC Test and Evaluation Test Directors Mr. James Bonn, Master Sergeant William Gilmer, Master Sergeant Robert Morada, and Technical Sergeant Wesley Lankford inspect the 2019 AMC Spark Tank winning innovation, the M-1 Timer Block Fail-Safe Mechanism following airdrop testing at Little Rock Air Force Base, AR in February 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Visual Information Specialist Lisa Elmo-Henske)

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. --

An Air Mobility Command Test and Evaluation Squadron test team, located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, conducted an operational assessment on an innovative AMC Phoenix Spark initiative-winning idea, the findings of which will inform AMC fielding decisions.

Of the 74 ideas submitted, General Maryanne Miller, AMC commander, announced that the winner of the 2019 AMC Phoenix Spark competition was U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Travis W. Alton, a 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron aerial delivery rigger at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas.  His idea advanced to the Air Force level at the Air Force Association Symposium in Orlando in February, where he competed with more than 300 pitches from across the Air Force.

The initial operational assessment of the M-1 Timer Block Fail-Safe Mechanism took place at his home station in mid-February 2019.  Responding ‘at the speed of relevance,’ the new Air Force priority, AMC TES created the test plan and initiated this ‘proof-of-concept’ test within a significantly compressed timeline.  A full-test team deployed from Joint Base MDL and was led by U.S. Air Force Capt. Dave G. Peter, Phoenix Spark innovator test director. Travelling with him were several loadmaster-test directors, two joint-airdrop inspector test directors, two master-test directors, and a visual-information specialist. The test directors observed and recorded results of normal heavy-equipment cargo airdrops utilizing the M-1 Timer block with the Fail-Safe Mechanism installed.

Christened the “Alton Block,” Alton developed the M-1 Timer Block Fail-Safe Mechanism, which provides a low-cost solution to a million-dollar problem. He described how he sketched the initial idea and used a home-made 3-D printer to manufacture a prototype of the Fail-Safe Mechanism, which he later presented before a board of high-ranking judges.

The competition is part of Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson’s AFWERX program, which encourages Airmen of all ranks and careers to generate innovative ideas to save the Air Force time, money and to maintain readiness.

“The winning device, a Fail-Safe Mechanism, is a simple piece of plastic designed to rest in the lower portion of the M-1 Cargo Parachute Release device that prevents the release mechanism from prematurely dropping in the critical window of extraction and the parachute deployment,” said Alton.  “It addresses the problem of the mid-air release of cargo parachutes once the aerial delivery assets have exited the aircraft.”

Initial testing began with three days of airdrops at Blackjack Drop Zone, Arkansas, with support from the 19th Airlift Wing, the 189th Airlift Wing, and the 19th LRS. Twenty-eight heavy-equipment cargo airdrops were conducted on loads from both C-130 Hercules and C-130J Super Hercules airframes. AMC TES test directors observed the rigging of the cargo delivery platforms and accompanied each aircraft to observe and document airdrops as they occurred.  Additionally, test-team members stationed at the drop zone documented all airdrops on video.

AMC TES is a selectively staffed test and evaluation unit, housed at Joint Base MDL, but report to Head Quarters AMC/Test and Evaluation at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.  It is comprised of subject-matter experts from 29 different Air Force Specialty Codes. This depth of background provides the capability to execute operationally representative testing to meet the objectives of AMC’s four core missions: airlift, aerial refueling, aeromedical evacuation, and global air mobility support. In the world of operational test and evaluation, operational assessments can identify deficiencies, or uncover design problems that affect a system’s potential capability.

Representative airdrops utilized two rigging configurations for the M-1 Timer to assess any impact on airdrop outcomes when used with the “Alton Block.”

“Safety concerns and rigging procedural concerns essentially made this initial test more about the rigging procedure, and an objective assessment of whether the ‘Alton Block’ fail-safe inhibits, or gets in the way of the successful operation of the M-1 Timer when set to deploy as designed with standard rigging procedures,” said Tech. Sgt. Wesley Lankford, AMC TES test director.

When the current M-1 Timer Block fails, it enables a premature release of aerial-delivery cargo parachutes from accompanying loads and often results in catastrophic damage to costly equipment.

“For years we have had to settle for a 98-percent reliability rate of heavy equipment airdrops,” said Alton. “This may sound like an extremely reliable system, which it is, however, that 2 percent still accounts for millions of dollars annually in destroyed assets.”

Test data included video recordings from GoPro cameras installed on each airdrop aircraft, cameras attached to each airdrop platform, and the video recordings of each drop from the ground to assess the timer release points.

“GoPro cameras provided a wide angle view which we anticipate will provide meaningful and reportable data,” said Peter. 

AMC TES test directors will review and analyze all data collected and will provide AMC headquarters with a final report compiling all test findings and any recommendations for possible enhancements or process improvements.

Immediately following the test, AMC TES provided 19th AW leadership with a video showing preliminary footage of airdrops conducted in the initial stages of the test using the “Alton Block.” Alton was also provided with similar preliminary test findings to support his AFA Symposium Spark Tank briefing to Secretary Heather Miller, USAF Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein, and other senior leaders.

AMC TES will assess the human factors associated with the timer block-rigging procedures resulting from use of the “Alton Block.”  They are expected to recommend follow-on testing.

“The M-1 Timer Block is intentionally not armed in an effort to narrow the assessment of the effectiveness and suitability of the “Alton Block” design enhancement once rigging concerns are resolved,” said Peter. He further indicated that additional instrumentation may be employed to record empirical data to assess the effective time-line of the fail-safe device deployment.

A machinist before joining the Air Force, Alton’s initial assignment was at Yokota Air Base, Japan, where he developed an interest in 3-D printing technology and for problem solving.  His move to aerial port operations at Little Rock AFB further spurred this interest in problem solving and engineering.  For purposes of presenting his innovation to senior leadership, Alton built a 3-D model to show how drops work and demonstrate the placement and function of the “Alton Block” within the timer mechanism.

“I am interested in exploring the engineering side of this development,” said Alton.  “We have a lot of people waiting to make this happen. I requested top-down support to extensively test this idea to, at the end of the day, totally eliminate these catastrophic failures.”

The level of AMC TES test support provides validation of the commitment of AMC leader to support the ideas and innovations of its greatest asset, the men and women who use the systems and programs, and for whom innovations would provide the greatest impact – the warfighter.

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