Programmers earn award for innovative tablet app

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Erica Crossen
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Software development programmers with the 375th Communications Support Squadron here were nationally recognized for creating an innovative iPad application designed to decrease the time it takes for KC-10 loadmasters and boom operators to do their jobs during pre-flight operations.

The team earned the Outstanding Information Technology Achievement in Government Award in the 27th Annual Government Computer News Awards. GCN is an organization that highlights government innovations in technology and industry around the country.

More than 140 local, state and federal organizations submitted this year, and of those, the 375th CSPTS programming team placed in the top 10.

The team was the sole Air Force team to win since 2008.

The app is designed to automatically gauge pre-flight distribution of cargo in a "weight and balance computation," taking into account the crew, fuel and cargo in a drag-and-drop interface.

The programming team's KC-10 Extender Load Management app reduced the load balancing calculation time from 46 minutes to five minutes. This could save the Air Mobility Command $232,000 per year, based on a staff sergeant loadmaster's pay and estimated costs from fiscal year 2013.

"One of our goals with the KC-10 was to make an application that was not only effective, but also applied new features afforded to us by the iPad," said Airman 1st Class Carson Ponder, a 375th CSPTS programmer. "We wanted to deliver an experience that was just as sharp and professional as you'd expect from any high-scale civilian application."

About 16 people in 375th CSPTS were involved in shaping the application to meet the needs of KC-10 personnel. Unlike some other GCN winners who contracted out teams to put programs together, the Air Force team sought out the answers to build the app.
Technical school training currently doesn't teach an understanding for Apple (iOS) operating systems, so the software development programmers branched out to other resources to fill the knowledge gap.

"Everything was self-taught," said Master Sgt. Mark Lorenzo, the 375th CSPTS flight chief of software engineering. "The app was extremely out of the norm because flyers used to have basic functionality with a palm pilot. This was the Air Force's first organically grown iPad app of its kind."

The team used a free online teaching resource provided by local universities, and sometimes YouTube to learn how to include different features. They went through a quality control process that included coding the application, testing, and checking its security.

"Considering this was one of our first iPad applications, we not only spent time carefully creating the process, we also spent time prioritizing unique challenges like making the most of the tablet-sized screen, utilization of touch features, and analyzing wireless printer security," said Senior Airman Matthew Mickaelian, a programmer on the team.

The team calculated that it took two self-taught programmers six months to generate 19,293 lines of code. The team also sent the KC-10 application code to a team developing a similar app for the C-5 aircraft; sharing this enabled that team to save 225 hours and $30,000.

"We were intending for the loadmasters and boom operators to use the KC-10 for cargo, restraints and tipping prevention on every mission they fly," Mickaelian said. "KC-10 works best on a mission-by-mission basis."

Nearly 6,100 KC-10 sorties were flown for fiscal 2013 and the same is expected for this year. The KC-10 can transport up to 75 people and nearly 170,000 pounds of cargo a distance of about 4,400 miles unrefueled.

Both Ponder and Mickaelian said it felt awesome to be a part of creating the KC-10 Load Management System application and it's a feat they are extremely proud of.

The software development team is working on a similar application for the KC-135 and is also providing support to the C-130 app development team as needed.

Mickaelian said, "We're glad it's been able to assist our loadmasters and boom operators and we're also excited for the future of mobile development."

Individuals credited for the project:
Management / oversight: Tracy Gray, Mark White and Vivian Luebbers.
Project leads: Master Sgt. Mathias Gassen, Tech. Sgt. Paul Carter and Tech. Sgt. Waylon Ross.
Lead developer: Staff Sgt. Ryan Woods.
Developers: Staff Sgt. Christopher Davies, Senior Airman Dustin Brown, Senior Airman Matthew Mickaeilian and Airman 1st Class Carson Ponder.
Testers: Senior Airman Richard Newell and Senior Airman Richard Thompson.