TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- “Knowledge is power and should be shared democratically.”
This is the quote you will find at the desk of Staff Sgt. Timothy Miller, 821st Contingency Response Squadron tactics flight. And this isn’t just a quote he appreciates; it’s something he lives by.
Miller finished in the top five of 64 Airmen, who submitted their innovation to the 2019 Air Mobility Command’s Phoenix Spark Tank competition.
“Finding solutions to everyday problems should be everyone’s goal,” said Miller.
Over the last year, Miller and his team of problem-solvers came up with a new way to power tactical airfield lights that are used to guide aircrews in low-light situations in austere airfields. These lights aren’t just used by the 621st Contingency Response Wing, but by a number of units through the Air Force.
Historically, these airfield lights were powered by four AA batteries.
“When using the batteries, there was a lot of uncertainty,” said Miller. “We never knew how long the batteries would last and the weather conditions wreaked havoc on them.”
The AA battery approach gave the airfield lights enough power for a few hours at best, but in February 2019, Miller was motivated by members of the 821st CRS to find a better solution.
“Just like in any brainstorming session, we began by just throwing ideas out there. Some ideas stuck, some didn’t,” said Miller.
During one of the sessions, Tech. Sgt. Stephen Stafford suggested the team try using a universal serial bus or USB to power the lights, said Miller. The team did a quick experiment with it and the lights worked, using an impromptu USB connector and positive and neutral wires.
“That was our ‘eureka’ moment,” said Miller.
The team’s next hurdle was to make an adapter that would complete the circuit the same way the batteries would. They decided to experiment with the 3D printers at the Travis Air Force Base Phoenix Spark lab.
“Luckily, for us Sergeant Perry has experience with 3D printers,” said Miller.
Staff Sgt. Jared Perry and the rest of the team came up with a design that would replace the batteries in the lights. In June 2019, the team had a working version of the lights and tested them on a TDY to Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. After field testing, the team made more improvements to the design and tested them again in September 2019.
“The lights worked well during our testing at Mobility Guardian,” said Miller. “There are always ways they can be better, but they’re functional and effective.”
Despite the working lights, Miller doesn’t see this as the end to this project.
“I would love for someone to take our current design, look at it through a fresh set of eyes and make it even better,” said Miller. “Our goal was to make this useable and efficient, but still keep it adaptable for the future.”
The future of these lights look bright, as Air Mobility Command has decided to fund the project in mass quantities.
“Tim Miller and Jared Perry are two of many in our Squadron who have carried the torch on innovation,” said Lt. Col. Christina Lee, 821st CRS commander. “They resemble what every commander wants to inspire in their units … Airmen who are unabashed about finding problems and being empowered to solve them with the resources at hand. They have earned great praise, not just for producing a more effective airfield light, but by leading the way for others to follow.”