MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. --
With the help of 3-D printing and community partnerships, the Plans and Programs innovation team here at McConnell have created a portable, solar-powered communications system.
The system, requested by U.S. Strategic Command, can be used by units such as civil engineering, security forces and base operations, for everything from bare base set-ups to exercises.
“It’s a mobile communication system that is set up to communicate with pilots,” said Senior Airman Aaron Walls, 22nd Air Refueling Wing XPX innovation team member. “It is completely self-sustainable—powered by solar power and solar panel can extend the [battery life] out almost indefinitely.”
The three-man team, led by Tech. Sgt. Clayton Allen, 22nd Air Refueling Wing XPX noncommissioned officer in charge, created the harnesses, basket, face plate and antenna apparatuses for the system, as well as fashioned the wiring and gauges. From concept to design, the team put in over 400 man hours into completing the project.
“We have been working day in and day out for the last month and half,” said Walls. “I don’t think any one piece on the box was made by one person. it was a collaboration by all of us working in tandem.”
The system consists of the radio, the casing, the antenna and solar panel. It contains a Harris radio system, direct current to alternating current inverter and a battery commonly found in solar-based homes.
“We also have four functional gauges,” explained Walls. “Gauge one is our solar production, which tells us how much solar energy we are getting, gauge two determines if we are receiving more energy than we are using, gauge three tells us our energy deficit and the fourth gauge tells us how much energy in total we are using. This makes it really simple for anyone using it.”
The radio has a range of up to 240 miles and is expected to save the Air Force over $12,000.
“I think that being able to come up with innovative solutions to problems we encounter here in the Air Force is important, because you cannot find this box commercially,” said Walls. “You can find similar products for around $10,000, but it will not be solar or self-sustaining. We created this kit for less than a one-fifth of that, with three times the features.”
The team partnered with Wichita State University GoCreate lab and used the various equipment in their facility to complete the project. The lab is an innovation facility that has industrial studios with everything from 3-D printing to electronics and metals technology.
“This interaction strengthens our bond with the community and helps open a lot of doors,” said Senior Airman Gino Acevedo, 22nd ARW XPX innovation team member. “There was a civilian at GoCreate that mentored me in welding. It was great because there are civilians there that have expertise in topics that we don’t, and are willing to help us out. We can always learn from them, and integrate what they know to help with projects that we deal with here to positively impact the Air Force.”
The McConnell XPX innovation cell enables innovative thinkers to produce homegrown, rapid solutions that can be implemented quickly and at low cost.
“When you give Airmen the leeway to invent you are putting the power back in the Airmen’s hands,” said Allen. “Our wing commander has chartered us and gave us the power to build this stuff in house. We put our best brains to good use and we’ve been able to create products like this. I think it’s simple. A program like this needs to be at every single installation, fully-funded and manned by the Air Force.”
Until that happens, McConnell’s XPX innovation cell is prepared to solve commander’s challenges with efficiency and ingenuity.