Westover Maintainers Snare Major Innovation Award

  • Published
  • By Mr. Rodney Furr
  • 439th Airlift Wing

A team of Citizen Airmen from the 439th Airlift Wing won the Department of Defense Maintenance Innovation “People’s Choice” award at the 2023 Maintenance Innovation Challenge.

The Patriot Wing Maintenance crew was one of six finalists selected from over 90 submissions.  The contenders delivered presentations at the DoD Maintenance Symposium in San Diego, CA on Dec 18. 

Led by Chief Master Sgt. Edward Marchanks, 439th Maintenance Squadron, the Westover members briefed the judges on identifying aircraft pressurization leaks using acoustic imaging.   The selection as People’s Choice by attendees netted Westover an award of $50,000 from the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences.

“Our experts in the Regionalized Isochronal Inspection Section sought a way to increase efficiency on C-5M pressurization checks. Research revealed that an acoustic imaging camera is now available off-the-shelf, which would detect these leaks with pinpoint precision, as well as significantly reduce fuel and personnel costs,” said Colonel Jordan Murphy, 439th Maintenance Group commander.  “I’m incredibly proud of this team for earning #1 out of 90 entries in the DoD Innovation Challenge for this award”

Westover’s maintainers perform twenty-two, two-to-four-week inspections per calendar year on the entire C-5 fleet Air Force wide.  Each pressurization check currently takes several hours with engines running at power to ensure leaks are minimal. Previously, the section used a variety of unscientific methods, such as paper towels or trash bags, to find leaky seals around the aircraft.

“Senior Airman Tristan McKee played a key role in driving this project from idea to success,” said Marchbanks.  “He suggested the idea after a colleague told him about a home inspector using a (similar camera) to look at heat loss within the house walls.  McKee suggested trying the technology on aircraft (and) that started the ball rolling.”

The acoustic camera has 124 microphones which “listen” for pressure leaks.  Once purchased, these cameras are expected to reduce fuel costs by more than $23,000 and personnel costs by more than $485 per pressurization engine run.  In addition to saving funds, this will reduce the average C-5 Minor Isochronal Inspection by up to three days, increasing aircraft availability for the combatant commanders.

In addition to the multiple cost saving effects of the award winning innovation, the technology is adaptable across the DoD.  Marchbanks spoke to other units and services while in San Diego, and the acoustic camera process drew high level interest for its applicability to airframes, ships, submarines and other facilities.