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Airmen develop concept for rooftop facility condition assessments

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS) -- Airmen at Ramstein Air Base have developed a value-added concept utilizing facility assessment vehicles (FAV) for conducting facility condition assessments on rooftops around the Air Force.

This new concept could reduce the risk to assessors who would otherwise be doing roof assessments. The FAVs are equipped with cameras that assessors would manipulate to conduct assessments from the ground. They would also provide data in a more timely manner, significantly reducing evaluation time.

“I took the idea and am trying to implement it, which could save the Air Force money and manpower,” said Master Sgt. Sherman Armprester, the 786th Civil Engineer Squadron NCO in charge of requirements and optimization civil activities and management program. “We went to a contractor and gave them the items that we wanted the FAV to accomplish and they designed it based on our requirements. With the expertise of German innovation, we knew that it would be good. One of the benefits of having it built in Germany is the ease of purchasing needed parts.”

Ramstein AB has 1,400 facilities requiring roof assessments over the next year. Armprester formed a small team consisting of Tech. Sgts. Jeffrey Santos, Quentin Rawls and Truman Wages to brainstorm how to best complete the requirement in a safe manner. One of their ideas was to utilize a FAV.

“Personally, I think that it is a concept that has merit and can definitely help the Air Force and (civil engineer) units with not only roof assessments but other crafts as well,” Armprester said.

The FAVs would be equipped with thermal imaging, infrared, three battery packs, a GPS and a remote control. It could also be configured so that if the remote control stopped working, the GPS would allow it to return to its original departure point on its own.

“Heating, ventilation and air conditioning, electrical, pavements, water, fuels and even heavy equipment crafts could utilize the FAVs. We could literally take out the FAV, scan the necessary area of review and have it return to the office without personnel leaving their desks,” Armprester said. “Only the operator would have to go in the field.”

Armprester added part of the requirements in the structures shop dictates that assessors cannot go on a roof when it is raining or wet. The FAV would potentially be able to fly over and do a quick assessment to find a leak or trouble spot on the roof and then we would be able to repair it at a later date.

By using FAVs, the use of harnesses, lanyards and safety equipment could be greatly reduced. Additionally, the requirement for an additional spotter to do roof assessments would no longer be required, freeing up man-hours for other necessary maintenance activities.

“From an electrical standpoint, it could help with verifying linear segmentation of overhead high voltage distribution lines and even help update Geobase records,” said Rawls, the 786th CES NCO in charge of requirements and optimization electrical activities and management program manager. “Since the FAV has infrared capabilities, it could find hot spots on exterior overhead power lines and (be) used as a preventive measure to minimize unscheduled power outages. A hotspot is like a fault. When you find a hotspot it can grow to a bigger problem which could cause a potential fault and outage.”

The Airmen believe the FAV could also locate facility HVAC air leaks or lack of insulation and then close the gaps to save energy costs.

"Although we are at the beginning stages of determining the viability of this idea, we think it has great potential and are excited about the possibilities,” said Col. Laura Johnson, the 86th Civil Engineer Group commander. “Leveraging this technology will save an incredible amount of time and money, and increase the safety aspects for our Airmen. I am continuously impressed with the innovative ideas our Airmen come up with -- they really are our greatest asset.”

The team is currently working to set up a demonstration to show the benefits of the FAV.

“Since the FAV is considered a small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) it would be governed by many (Defense Department) and government regulations depending on the type of systems and where it will be used,” said Brian Skibba, the chief of the airbase acquisition branch at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.

On April 26, 2012, the Air Force issued a series of three Air Force insturctions that govern sUAS training, standardization, evaluation and operations; one of which is AFI 11-502, “Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training.”

There is also a separate process for and use of radio frequencies and evaluation of airspace issues.

“As we know, the Air Force has reduced our manning and this would help us become more efficient,” said Santos, the 786th CES NCO in charge of requirements and optimization mechanical activities and management program manager. “Instead of 10 people doing this job, one person can do it, saving time and resources. Plus, ensuring an operator is certified to operate the FAV can reduce any mishap potential or risks to operations.”

The Airmen hope to spread the word of their idea to the Air Force and develop a best practice the service could adopt, saving manpower and money.

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