Innovative Airmen modify mobile A/C unit

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Bahja J. Jones
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Performing in extreme temperatures is the norm for many deployed service members, and adjustments in operations tempos are necessary to complete the mission on time to accommodate heat stress conditions. 

Two innovative Airmen assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron here fabricated a cooling sock attachment for the mobile air conditioning and heating units, which keep KC-135 Stratotanker flight decks cool while they are parked on the flightline. 

The sock allows ground crews to operate safely during engine start-up, while protecting avionics equipment from overheating, therefore enabling crucial air refueling missions. 

Staff Sgts. Henry Crankshaw and Kevin Morse work at the 379th EOSS aircrew flight equipment back shop here are the creative team behind the new cooling sock design. The two-man shop serves as the hub for repacking, inspecting and maintaining support flight equipment for 11 bases in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command's area of responsibility. 

"Since we're maintaining items like parachutes, harnesses and the packs they are in, we are taught how to sew," said Crankshaw, the 379th EOSS aircrew flight equipment NCO in charge. "That's how we were able to take a product created by the Phoenix Air National Guard, redesign it and make it more cost effective and easier to produce." 

The original "tanker sock" was created by the 161st Air Refueling Wing at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Ariz. The sock was a lightweight flexible canvas tube small enough to run behind the aircraft's crew entry ladder, thus eliminating safety hazards associated with previous cooling methods. 

Lt. Col. Robert Hanovich, the previous 379th EOSS commander, saw the 161st ARW's tanker sock on the flightline here and asked if it was something they could replicate using the supplies on-hand, Crankshaw said. 

"Once we actually saw their design, we started making modifications to make it better," said Morse, the 379 EOSS aircrew flight equipment assistant NCO in charge. "We studied the results from the 161st ARW Air Force Battlelab report and assessed the materials they used."

One of the first things they noticed was the material used in the original design wasn't necessarily ideal for both heating and cooling, so they went through their inventory and decided to use cordura material, a nylon fabric.

"It's ideal for heating and cooling and is also flame retardant," Morse said. "It was also lighter and cheaper to use than the fabric on the original design."

Mentally taking apart the Phoenix design, the team brainstormed a completely new prototype. They incorporated elements from the previous design, but eliminated unnecessary pieces improving the overall product. After they completed their first sample, they took the cooling sock out to the flightline to get feedback from the aircrews. They made a few minor adjustments to the design based upon the crew's suggestions and other small modifications to make it more user friendly, Morse said. 

"After we completed the final design, we were able to start manufacturing the new cooling sock," Morse said. "Within three weeks, we developed 12 cooling socks and pushed them out to the Stratotanker units here." 

Positive feedback and praise has been the response from the crews who have benefited from the cooling sock here, said Senior Airman Zachary Kizer, a 340th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit instrument and flight control systems technician. 

"It not only keeps us cool, but the circuit breakers and avionics equipment as well," he said. "When the circuit breakers overheat, they can pop, we lose power, and our systems can fail. The increased air flow brought on by the modified tubing helps to keep everything cool so we can do our jobs." 

The new design has been forwarded to four major commands and 30 KC-135 squadrons throughout the Air Force for consideration for use in other Stratotanker operations. 

"KC-135's have been around a long time," said Capt. Eric Ray, the 379th EOSS aircrew flight equipment officer. "To take a 60-year-old aircraft and apply a new concept is truly Air Force innovation."