A group of Tokyo-based airmen got together at a brainstorming session and completed a DIY project that could save the Air Force at least $8 million.
Airmen from the 374th Maintenance Squadron and the 374th Operations Support Squadron at Yokota Air Base have found an alternative to the expensive, heavy and faulty aircraft oxygen system known as AERPS — and it starts with a standard-issue gas mask.
The airmen successfully converted a M-50 joint-service, general-purpose mask into a functional onboard oxygen system that is substantially cheaper and safer than the system currently used throughout the Air Force, Stars and Stripes reported.
“We took the mask and added some off-the-shelf parts and some 3D-printed parts and converted it into a piece of equipment that can work in an aircraft,” Senior Master Sgt. David Siemiet, an aircrew flight equipment superintendent, told Stripes.
The airmen took inspiration from an Army battle tank system that attaches soldiers’ masks to air blowers. They created an adaptor that allows the M-50 mask to attach to a hose plugged into an oxygen system, as well as a cap that blocks airflow into one side of the mask.
The innovators used standards parts and two components made on a 3D printer that one senior airman purchased with his own money to create what they call the “AERPS Ultra” system.
Otherwise known as additive manufacturing, 3-D printing technology is beginning to demonstrate its utility for forward-deployed forces.
Compared to standard AERPS, the “ultra” model is significantly lighter and cheaper.
Tech. Sgt. Eric Lundeen, an aircraft materials technology craftsman involved in the project, told Stripes it costs just 75 cents to modify one mask, giving the project the potential to save the Air Force at least $8 million and countless man hours.
C-130 Hercules pilot Capt. Matthew Kohl said the modified masks, which weigh less than a pound, are more comfortable than the 40 pounds of chemical protection gear aircrew currently use.
The lighter masks also do not require the electricity-draining power supply or expensive batteries of the old system.
The airmen plan to send their modified masks to Air Force technology experts with the hope that the service will expand the availability of 3D printers on bases.
“This is going to affect every pilot in the Air Force,” Lundeen told Stripes. “It gives them a lot more flexibility and mobility, increases safety and saves a ton of money.”