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Confined space trainer redefines training plan

U.S. Air Force Airman Shawn Bragg, 100th Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuel systems apprentice, prepares to enter the confined space trainer Dec. 15, 2017 on RAF Mildenhall, England. The training unit was built in-house, using scrap metal. The alternative to the confined space trainer was purchasing an additional KC-135 Stratotank wing fuel tank or training on operational aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justine Rho)

Airman Shawn Bragg, 100th Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuel systems apprentice, prepares to enter the confined space trainer on RAF Mildenhall, England, Dec. 15, 2017. The training unit was built in-house, using scrap metal. The alternative to the confined space trainer was purchasing an additional KC-135 Stratotank wing fuel tank or training on operational aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justine Rho)

U.S. Air Force Airman Shawn Bragg, 100th Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuel systems apprentice, secures bolts inside the confined space trainer Dec. 15, 2017 on RAF Mildenhall, England. The conditions inside an actual wing fuel-tank are simulated inside the training unit to prepare Airmen. Trainees are required to wear personal protective equipment just as they would operationally.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justine Rho)

Airman Shawn Bragg, 100th Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuel systems apprentice, secures bolts inside the confined space trainer on RAF Mildenhall, England, Dec. 15, 2017. The conditions inside an actual wing fuel-tank are simulated inside the training unit to prepare Airmen. Trainees are required to wear personal protective equipment just as they would operationally. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justine Rho)

RAF MILDENHALL, England (AFNS) -- The access point into the wing fuel tanks of a KC-135 Stratotanker is a hatch that is about the size of a commercial aircraft viewing window. After twisting and turning into that small opening, an Airman is immediately enveloped by the smell of jet fuel and complete darkness.

Aircraft fuels systems Airmen assigned to the 100th Maintenance Squadron have to become familiar with claustrophobic work spaces, such as the fuel tanks within the wings of an aircraft, in order to do their jobs. A team of Airmen within the 100th MXG, each contributing from their different sections and line of expertise, addressed the need to better prepare their personnel by creating a standalone confined space trainer.

“We had a large influx of new Airmen and to get them spun up and ready to do fuels systems maintenance it would take about three months until they can do their first job,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Goins, 100th Maintenance Group aircraft fuel systems craftsman. “The confined space trainer allows us to work with Airmen in a safe and controlled environment; instead of pulling an aircraft from the flight line, we can do training readily in the shop.”

Some priorities to the design of the trainer included authenticity and a design that allows instructors to easily observe and give instructions to Airmen inside the trainer. With the specifications in mind, the next step was to construct a unit that best simulated the conditions of an aircraft.

“Being in structural maintenance kind of centers around building parts for the aircraft,” said Staff Sgt. Scott Trombley, 100th MXG aircraft structural maintenance craftsman. “I took a personal interest in the project because it’s not something we normally get to do and it gave me the opportunity to be creative. It was mutually beneficial for my section because we recruited [Airmen still in training] to assist in construction, which gave them upgrade training in our career field.”

To further the realism of the training unit, the team looked to the metals technology section to help fabricate a fuel tank hatch.

“They needed a door that closely simulated an aircraft fuel tank hatch, for entry and exit procedures, to help get their newer Airmen trained properly,” explained Staff Sgt. Montana Engelking, 100th MXG metals technology craftsman. “They procured us a door from the wing fuel tank of a Stratotanker. We then took precision measurements and basically reverse engineered the existing door geometry to cut out a door without having to buy a new one.”

“A wing section to use as a trainer would have cost about $500,000,” Goins said. “Our trainer has a total cost, including building hours, of about $2,000.”

It took multiple sections and motivated minds to make the confined space trainer into a reality.

“Innovation starts at the user level, so it’s important we keep trying to find ways to do our job better and more effectively,” Goins said.

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