Groups donate more than a dozen 3-D printers to Travis Air Force Base

October 02 2020

Daily Republic By Todd R. Hansen

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — Do you know when the handle of a $12,000 hot cup is at its most valuable?

When the crew of a KC-10 air-to-air refueling tanker is flying around at 40,000 feet and ready to dock with another aircraft.

The problem was, Sr. Master Sgt. Phillip Edwards said, the handle kept breaking. So the Air Force used 3-D technology to craft a better handle. Problem solved.

Members of the Phoenix Spark initiative at Travis have also used the 3-D technology to craft a way to secure iPads so they are not flying around the inside of the KC-10, either.

They also improved the caps on liquid oxygen containers so the airmen can more easily remove them while wearing all their equipment, cutting hours off the task.

Staff Sgt. Max Estrada said the 3-D technology also has resulted in producing replacement parts.

“We use a lot of outdated stuff and we have to keep that stuff working,” Estrada said. “A lot of those parts and pieces aren’t made anymore.”

Perhaps the most critical use of the technology has been to craft personal protective equipment for medical staff and first responders during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Estrada was using his own personal 3-D printer to try to supply the base with face shields and other needs. Travis was involved from the beginning. It housed repatriated Americans from Wuhan, China, and passengers from cruise ships on which novel coronavirus outbreaks occurred.

Now that effort will be easier.

Fourteen 3-D printers have been donated to Travis Air Force Base – a gift that will go beyond Covid-19 and allow airmen to find real-need solutions in real time.

Staff Sgt. Maximilion Estrada hands 60th Air Mobility Wing commander Col. Corey A. Simmons a face shield that was made with parts from the base’s new 3-D printers, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

Col. Corey A. Simmons, commander of the 60th Air Mobility Wing, accepted the donation Wednesday from the Travis Community Consortium, the Fairfield Community Services Foundation and Travis Credit Union.

The printers, made in Czechoslovakia, as a group are valued at more than $17,000.

“I had reached out to them, because this (Covid equipment) was an urgent need, and the Fairfield Community Services Foundation stepped up immediately so David Grant and our first responders could do their jobs,” said Sandy Person, a member of the consortium who works closely with the Phoenix Spark initiative on base.

The David Grant U.S. Air Force Medical Center is the on-base hospital and also has been a centerpiece in the Covid-19 response.

Person said Travis Credit Union got involved and brought Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco in as well.

“It has a tremendous upside after (Covid-19) because they are working to solve the everyday problems at Travis Air Force Base,” Person said.

The Phoenix Spark initiative dates back to 2016 and goes well beyond using 3-D printers to produce Covid-19 protective gear.

Phoenix Spark was formed to empower airmen to use new technologies such as artificial intelligence or machine learning, virtual reality or augmented reality, drone or unmanned vehicle technology and, yes, 3-D printing.

The airmen also develop relationships with other military connections, but also private industry, academic resources and government agencies in order to solve problems from the floor up.

Some of the other 3-D projects that have come out of Phoenix Spark include an adaptor that completes a circuit the same way batteries do, but without the uncertainty of batteries. The device was used in tactical airfield lights, which are used to guide aircrews in low-light situations in austere airfields.

Airmen also used 3-D printers to produce a trigger mechanism for speed limit guns used by security forces, which meant that the entire speed gun did not have to be replaced when this one part broke.

But Person thinks the real story is the men and women of Phoenix Spark.

“The Phoenix Spark team is wicked smart,” Person said. “There is a grassroots innovation there.”

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