Airman’s KC-135 solution scales from initial spark into action

  • Published
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

An empowered Airman’s innovation has made it past Initial Operational Capability and is en route to be fully scaled across the Air Force’s fleet of KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft.

Senior Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda’s boom operator instructor platform design was issued a Time Compliance Technical Order by Air Force A4 Logistics to fully integrate its installation in all KC-135 aircraft. The design, which provides a more ergonomically correct and stable workstation, is scheduled to replace all KC-135 instructor platforms Air Force-wide, keeping mobility Airmen safe, prepared and mission ready.

Bachleda’s new design was initially installed in a KC-135 at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, in November 2019, and was subsequently evaluated before reaching IOC and TCTO issuance. TCTOs are intended to expedite the accomplishment of retrofit changes to systems and materiel such as aircraft.

Bachleda, now a command manager of nuclear policy and procedures at Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, came up with the idea to improve the mission effectiveness and quality of life of KC-135 boom operators while stationed at Altus Air Force Base. He submitted his design to the Air Force’s first Spark Tank competition in early 2018 and won. Spark Tank champions innovation from Airmen around the world to develop and present ideas that can improve Air Force capabilities.

“Airmen and Guardians like Master Sgt. Bachleda are thinkers with a passion for solving problems and they’ve shown us that cost-effective, innovative solutions resonate with senior leaders,” said Brou Gautier, Spark Tank director.

Gautier noted the tremendous competition for the resources necessary to develop and deploy good ideas. Though not all ideas are developed, Department leaders fully evaluate each idea and sponsor actions necessary to either off-ramp an idea or pursue it until actions are completed.

“It’s fitting that Spark Tank’s first winning idea has been implemented,” Gautier said. “More will follow and that should motivate every intrapreneur to get their ideas out there and in the competition. The worst idea is the one not known.”

For Bachleda, the journey from idea to action proved to be a rewarding experience.

“I saw an opportunity to make a positive, lasting change and seized upon the idea,” Bachleda said. “It’s an honor and privilege to be able to help fellow Airmen within the boom operator career field.”

Bachleda’s boom operator platform design aims to reduce neck and back injuries boom operators experience in day-to-day operations. The new platform, which is 80% less expensive than other designs, has helped improve Airmen’s health and has reduced an estimated $100 million in annual medical costs resulting from neck, back and shoulder injuries.

“Our Air Force is a child of innovation — no one dreamed of any Air Force until two innovative bicycle manufacturers dared the impossible and willed an airplane into existence almost 118 years ago,” Bachleda said. “Innovation knows no borders, speaks every language, lives in every time zone, holds every (Air Force specialty code), transcends all ranks, loves imagination and it thrives on persistence. But it is no accident, it is simply born of necessity.”

Submissions for Spark Tank 2022 are due Oct. 1, 2021.