The Air Force loves technology. It makes planes fly faster and higher, bombs more accurate and deadly and its Airmen the most advanced of any air and space force on the planet.
Now, technology is also helping Air Mobility Command aircrews go green, save time and money.
A new Electronic Flight Bag program is aiming to replace the current flight bags, which are full of bulky manuals, charts and other reference materials, with small, lightweight tablets. To accomplish this, AMC officials recently signed a $9.36-million contract to buy as many as 18,000 iPads for use by pilots, navigators and trainers.
“We currently use two flight bags that each weigh anywhere from 60 to 80 pounds,” said Capt. Rob Lundy, a C-17 pilot with the 3rd Airlift Squadron at Dover Air Force Base, Del. “Now, using these tablets, all of this information is in the palm of our hand.”
The iPads aren’t just smaller and lighter. They also save AMC and the Air Force a lot manpower hours. The current system of manuals and charts need constant updating, which requires someone to manually go through and take out all the old information and replace it with new.
“So, by using a tablet computer, now all of this information is electronic and updating it is as easy as downloading the updates,” said Lt. Col. Erin Meinders, the director of operations for the 3rd AS. “And we also won’t need to take someone away from his or her regular duty to update the hard copy manuals.”
Staff Sgt. Curt Snyder can’t wait. A loadmaster with the 3rd AS, he currently spends his days updating manuals and organizing materials for the flight bags. For him, the prospect of being able to go back to his “real” job is exciting.
“It would be awesome if these paper-copy manuals went away,” he said. “Then, I can go back to being a loadmaster, which is what I love doing.”
It’s not just time the Air Force will save, either. By eliminating the paper used to produce the constant updates and add-ons, AMC will save an estimated $5 million per year.
“Add to this the time and people savings, and you’re talking about a lot of money,” Meinders said.
There’s also the issue of how much space those paper flight bags take up in a cockpit and how much weight they add to the aircraft, which can have an effect on fuel efficiency.
“With limited space in the cockpit and the amount of paper that each crew has to manage, it can quickly become controlled chaos,” said Maj. Pete Brichenough, who heads AMC’s EFB test. “An electronic flight bag could solve this issue by putting all information in one place to be recalled and updated almost immediately.”
The program is currently still in the test phase, but aircrews are already liking what they see.
“It’s really amazing,” said Capt. Timothy Jastrab, also a C-17 pilot with the 3rd AS. “Having all the information we need at our fingertips vastly makes life easier. It really changes how we do business.”
If approved following testing, the EFB program will eventually put an iPad in the hands of every flight crew member.
Then, instead of lugging heavy books, flipping through them to find information and holding these bulky manuals in their laps, aircrews can swipe, pinch and zoom away on a small device in the palms of their hands.
Oh, and they’re locked, so no Angry Birds.