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AFRL lighting the way for military aircrews

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFNS) -- Air Force Research Laboratory Materials and Manufacturing Directorate (RX) junior force researchers resolved an issue of critical importance to military pilots and aircrews—portable, reliable and robust temporary landing zone lighting.

Current portable landing zone lighting systems, used for temporary and semi-permanent airfields, are aging and quickly reaching the end of their functional lifetimes. The need for a quick solution was recognized by the Joint Special Operations Command, who listed the issue as one of their top five Safety of Flight capability gaps and reached out to AFRL for help.

Answering the call, researchers from the Junior Force Warfighters Operations in RX, or JFWORX, program began to develop a quick-response solution. Working with JSOC, the team identified product requirements as well as warfighter needs. From there, the researchers contacted potential suppliers and worked with them to develop prototypes that would improve upon the original design, while remaining cost-effective.

“We engaged in numerous conversations with both supplier and customer to ensure the final product would meet the needs of the pilots who will depend on these lights under what are sometimes difficult or hazardous conditions,” said Joseph Shumaker, the JFWORX project manager. “Once we identified and devised a good design, we conducted environmental testing to ensure the requirements were met and the lighting units performed as required.”

The resulting product incorporates infrared lighting capabilities as well as light-emitting diodes, or LED, that are programmed with various modes to meet mission-specific requirements. The new units are also able to be tied down to remain in place and safe from aircraft engine exhaust or prop wash.

The new landing zone lighting units have been transitioned for commercial production and are expected to be implemented for field use immediately to replace legacy systems. These units will increase mission capabilities and will enable missions into areas not possible with the previous lighting systems.

The JFWORX program is an initiative designed to give the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate workforce the opportunity to lead mission-specific projects for the immediate benefit of the warfighter. Shumaker said the landing zone lighting exemplifies the spirit of JFWORX.

“We were tasked to address a critical need to ensure the safety of our airmen. Within 16 months, we were able to deliver a cost-effective solution that can be quickly and easily implemented in the field,” he said.