News

Face of Defense: Plumber, Boom Operator Collaborate to Enhance Readiness

Feb. 7, 2017 | BY Air Force Airman 1st Class Erin McClellan , 22nd Air Refueling Wing

An unlikely pair of McConnell airmen -- a plumber and a boom operator -- poured their energy over the past year into developing a cost-effective new system to safely direct alert aircrews during fast-response actions.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Clayton Allen installs an alert route sign on a light pole, Nov. 17, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., Jan. 11, 2017. Allen and Air Force Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda designed and built the signs, potentially saving the Air Force millions of dollars. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Clayton Allen installs an alert route sign on a light pole, Nov. 17, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., Jan. 11, 2017. Allen and Air Force Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda designed and built the signs, potentially saving the Air Force millions of dollars. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Clayton Allen installs an alert route sign on a light pole, Nov. 17, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., Jan. 11, 2017. Allen and Air Force Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda designed and built the signs, potentially saving the Air Force millions of dollars. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda
Airmen Invent High-Tech Alert Signage
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Clayton Allen installs an alert route sign on a light pole, Nov. 17, 2016, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., Jan. 11, 2017. Allen and Air Force Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda designed and built the signs, potentially saving the Air Force millions of dollars. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda
Photo By: Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda
VIRIN: 170111-F-ZZ999-0001

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Clayton Allen, the noncommissioned officer in charge of 22nd Air Refueling Wing plans and programs, and Air Force Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda, the wing’s plans and programs superintendent, took on the challenge of designing new alert route signs.

After exploring multiple options and comparing costs, Allen, a civil engineer by trade, took the lead on designing the operating firmware in-house.

“When it comes to all of the signs’ electronic control modules, I came up with the design, put it together, programmed the firmware and coded the web-based application that allows control and monitoring of the signs remotely,” said Allen, who has a bachelor’s degree in web design and development. 

Designing the Signs

The first step was designing the 18-by-16-inch signs, which are made from scrap aircraft aluminum and are fitted with reflective arrows and carefully selected, amber-colored law-enforcement LED lights. Each is powered by an industrial-grade 12-volt battery, with a heavy-duty solar panel as a backup power source.

To transmit the signals that turn the signs on and off required meeting strict federal radio emission requirements and approval by the 22nd Communications Squadron, Air Mobility Command and the Federal Communications Commission for use on a military installation.

“We researched extensively, and the only system that met the requirements was a communications chip commonly found in cell phones,” achleda said. “They all come with an FCC ID, therefore, they’re already cleared to be on the installation. Most people already have a cell phone on base. We simply added 21 more.”

The system serves the base and the Air Force in more ways than one.

A sign at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., Jan. 12, 2017, is part of a new high-tech alert system designed and built by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Clayton Allen and Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda
A sign at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., Jan. 12, 2017, is part of a new high-tech alert system designed and built by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Clayton Allen and Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda
A sign at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., Jan. 12, 2017, is part of a new high-tech alert system designed and built by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Clayton Allen and Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda
Airmen Invent High-Tech Alert Signage
A sign at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., Jan. 12, 2017, is part of a new high-tech alert system designed and built by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Clayton Allen and Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda
Photo By: Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda
VIRIN: 170112-F-ZZ999-0008

Warning of High-Speed Vehicles

“This system is important to McConnell Air Force Base because it will provide visual warning to base personnel that there could soon be a high-speed alert vehicle responding along the route they are travelling,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Wendell Hertzelle, the wing’s plans and programs chief. “The crew is responding to a time-sensitive alert mission, and it is imperative that they respond promptly and safely to ensure they meet their tasking, improving national security.”

McConnell is the only base with this technology, but soon, more Air Force bases will embrace it. Future systems will be interconnected, allowing signs at every location to be simultaneously activated during a national response exercise, Bachleda said.

“I believe it’s safe to say that anywhere there’s a base with an alert force requirement, our signs have a very good chance of being there,” Allen said.

Submitted for Awards

The one-of-a-kind asset could save the Air Force millions of dollars, wing officials said. The idea won honorable mention in the U.S Transportation Command Commander’s Innovation Showcase Award program and has been submitted to AMC and Transcom for the Innovator of the Year award, with plans to submit it to the Airmen Powered by Innovation program.

“Our homegrown system set a unique precedent for this requirement,” Bachleda said. “There was nothing we could have used or followed to bring this back online other than invent it ourselves. We were our own research and development team to deliver a 21st-century version of this.

“We developed and tested several variants of circuitry control systems, LED lights, solar panels, batteries and sign designs before arriving at a consensus [among] five base agencies on what was going to work best,” he continued. “We literally built something with parts that were never intended or designed to be used together.”