ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Students assigned to the 97th Training Squadron here successfully tested a new part for the KC-135 Stratotanker, July 21, 2020, after designing and creating it in the 97th Air Mobility Wing Spark Cell.
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Nathan Bredl and Airman Basic Sean Cao, C-17 Globemaster III loadmaster students at the 97th TRS, designed and 3D printed a circuit breaker handle to easily pull three circuit breaker buttons at once, saving time and effort for pilots in emergency situations.
Master Sgt. Joseph Royer, a KC-135 boom operator instructor, originally brought up the idea for the part after individually identifying a potential area of improvement on the aircraft.
“In an emergency situation, there are multiple procedures or actions you can take to help dissolve the problem,” said Royer. “One of those procedures is for the pilot to pull three specific circuit breakers behind their seat. Through my independent research I have learned that this can take anywhere from three to twenty seconds. I wanted to design something that would allow pilots to pull the correct three circuit breakers faster so they can focus on the mission.”
After identifying the problem, Bredl and Cao began to brainstorm a possible prototype for the new handle. Bredl and Cao spent more than a week in the Spark Cell lab designing a prototype that would properly solve the problem.
“A lot of changes were made to the original prototype before we found one that worked,” said Bredl. “At first we went through a clamping design that immediately did not work. We then created a handle that you could pull, but then decided it was too long. We then had to focus on finding a sturdiness and thickness that would be strong enough to pull all three breakers at a time.”
Bredl and Cao designed eight different handles before they created a prototype that worked properly. Cao explained how creating the handle was a large trial and error process, but their work proves Airmen can do anything they put their mind to.
“By making something like this handle, it shows that anyone can help,” said Cao. “Bredl and I have not even flown on a military aircraft yet, and to design a product for something we've never seen or know very little about, shows that anything is possible.”
Royer explains how he is grateful for the opportunity to utilize the 3D printers, equipment and models at the Spark Cell with the initiative of Airmen to develop creative solutions locally.
“I think making products like this handle shows that we are supporting innovation by allowing our student Airmen the opportunity to use equipment such as this while in training,” said Royer. “It shows students and instructors here that are flying on a nearly 60 year old aircraft that there are still things we can do to make improvements.”