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AFSO 21 initiative leads to safer flying at Lakenheath

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England (AFPN) -- As Air Force Smart Operations 21 went Air Force-wide this year, the 48th Fighter Wing here jump-started its program with weekly AFSO 21 initiatives briefed at wing stand-up.

“I want every Airman, civilian and (Ministry of Defense) employee on this base to understand, first of all, what AFSO 21 is, but then to see it in action on the job,” said Brig. Gen. Robert P. Steel, 48th FW commander.

“One person’s great ideas spur even greater ideas and creativity in others,” the general said.

“Each group is required to share a new initiative once a month at the weekly wing stand-up meeting,” said Capt. Jason McCree, 48th FW AFSO 21 officer. “We have really developed some quick wins that have the potential to save us all a lot of time and energy. It is important to share these wins with wing leaders weekly to get the word out about the base improvements, as well as leverage the AFSO 21 culture throughout RAF Lakenheath.”

One recently highlighted program from the 48th Operations Group introduced a new, automated way for aviators to read, understand and apply Notices to Airmen, or NOTAMs, in flight planning and during flight.

Traditionally, every flying squadron in the United Kingdom had to independently read, plot and maintain every NOTAM from creation to expiration. The process, dating from the 1980s, was cumbersome, complicated and error-prone. Intelligence personnel and mission planners had to read each NOTAM from the antiquated dot-matrix printouts and mark them by hand.

“As with any complicated system, the great challenge was human error. A misplotted latitude or longitude, a pin accidentally knocked off the map or a lost or misfiled printout could each easily jeopardize safety in the air,” said Capt. Chaz Chandler, designer of the 48th FW NOTAM resource center.

The new NOTAM system has a team comprised of previously independent organizations: intelligence, airfield management and current operations. Together, the organizations use commonly available software to automate the process and publish their results to all users.

NOTAMs are entered into a database, where they are easily exported to electronic map overlays. Each time a map is printed, all of the NOTAMs are already overlayed upon it. Flight planning now can be done in real time directly on the computer, avoiding “no-fly” areas and other restrictions.

“The centralization of effort, reduction in manpower requirements and automation of tedious, manual tasks are all key elements of this AFSO 21 initiative,” Captain Chandler said.

“This system not only saves manpower hours and is free to implement using pre-existing software the Air Force already owns, but it potentially saves lives,” said Lt. Col. Troy Stone, 492nd Fighter Squadron director of operations. “The increase in safety of flight, accuracy of information and improved training and mission execution is invaluable. We already have reduced the average number of noise complaints."

Although RAF Lakenheath Airmen developed this automated NOTAM program in-house, plans to share the technology and training efficiencies with other Air Force units are in the works.

“I hope to have the opportunity to brief the benefits of this AFSO 21-inspired initiative to both my United Kingdom and U.S. counterparts,” General Steel said. “The more people use this new NOTAM system, the more efficient and safe the skies become.”

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