Ammunition for innovation

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Blake Justen, 86th Munitions Squadron conventional munitions technician, pulls a bag of chaff, an aircraft radar countermeasure, out of a box at Ramstein Air Base, June 24. Airmen from the 86 MUNS have been using a makeshift constructed from a wire hanger and are partnering with the Operational Planning Team and 86th Maintenance Squadron to find a more efficient way to clear the chaffs and dispose of the aluminum separately as required by German law. Photo by Airman 1st Class Alexcia Givens

When Airmen from the 86th Munitions Squadron attended an innovation course that explained the importance of new methods and processes in the Air Force, it ignited an idea.

With the course still fresh in their minds, the Airmen questioned whether the current process of removing aluminum from decoy chaffs — a radar countermeasure used by aircraft consisting of aluminum coated fiberglass — could be less time-consuming.

“If something is a pain and it’s not the quickest way of doing something, then ask whether the task could be made easier or done faster,” said Senior Airman Blake Justen, 86 MUNS conventional munitions technician.

Clearing the decoy chaffs is done differently at every base. Additionally, German laws require the aluminum to be disposed of separately from the chaff, which differs from requirements in the United States.

Airmen from the 86 MUNS have been clearing aluminum from chaffs with a makeshift tool constructed from a wire hanger for years. It typically takes Airmen weeks to clear more than 20,000 chaffs located on Ramstein.

They decided to take their concerns to the Operational Planning Team, which is responsible to direct a charter and baseline for innovation resources and efforts across the installation.

The first project the team tackled was a solution for the 86 MUNS issue with emptying chaffs. The OPT and 86 MUNS sought help from the 86 Maintenance Squadron to help simplify the process.

The first prototype was a metal bar that was welded to a handle to create something sturdier than their makeshift tool. Then, the 86 MXS created a tool using a water jet. However, both tools still required the Airmen to manually do everything.

“What we are trying to do is come up with a process to make it more efficient, so it is less labor intensive,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Barnes, an 86 MXS aircraft metals technology craftsman. “The goal is to create a device that can be used to clear multiple chaffs at a time.”

The process allowed for OPT, 86 MUNS and 86 MXS to team together and create two separate tools which makes the chaff emptying process easier, but they’re still working focused on making an even more efficient process.

“More people should question processes,” said Justen. “It takes a little initiative, but that’s all it takes at the end of the day.’’