PRINCE SULTAN AIR BASE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia --
A simple action like an apple falling onto an unexpecting scholar’s head or a scientist leaving his window open letting a microparticle of mold wisp in on the wind and land in a petri dish, can cause ripples in society that can change the lives of millions.
In the grand scheme of things Senior Airman Owen Monaghan, a flying crew chief with the 378th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, only read a 101 word paragraph buried in a 48,527 word, 106 page Air Force technical manual. From those words however, the simple metal box he designed, both increased the efficiency of all fuels specialists stationed at Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and increased the U.S. Ninth Air Force’s (AFCENT) readiness and capabilities in its area of responsibility.
The KC-10 Extender is an Air Mobility Command advanced tanker and cargo aircraft designed to provide increased global mobility for U.S. armed forces. A simplified way of saying that is, the KC-10 is a big aircraft meant to carry a lot of fuel, not only for itself but for the rest of AFCENT’s airpower in the sky.
To avoid static electricity discharge during refueling, all equipment must be grounded. The R11 fuel trucks, with a 60,000-gallon aluminum baffled tank, needs approximately two to three points of ground contact, and the KC-10 normally needs more than one truck to refuel both itself and the fuel tanks it uses for its aerial mission.
The inconvenience arose from the fact that there were not enough grounding points in the flightline for multiple fuel trucks to refuel a single aircraft at the same time. The 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron’s KC-10s turned out to be simply too big an airframe for multiple truck’s grounding cables to reach everywhere they needed. A multiple receptacle junction box fixed all that and it all came about by the innovation and initiative of Monaghan.
“In my job, if there's an issue I identify it and come up with a solution,” said Monaghan. “If I can fix it on the spot, I fix it on the spot, if it requires more help, then I figure out which shop I need and ask for help.”
In a more built-up base in a non-expeditionary environment, there would be refueling pits that carry fuel through underground pipes to where it needs to go. Only a single refueling truck is needed to tap directly into that line to refuel an aircraft.
Whereas in an expeditionary environment, the truck has to be refueled off site, then carry its load to the aircraft. That takes time or multiple grounding points for multiple trucks. Or if you're Monaghan, just a little ingenuity is needed.
Monaghan followed three simple instructions from the technical manual to make the box: it had to be made out of a highly conductive metal, it had to have specific grounding jacks and it could not exceed 10-ohm resistance.
“It’s in the technical manual, you just have to do a little reading and it will tell you what to do,” said Monaghan. “But it doesn’t exactly tell you how to do it, so that's kind of the thing you have to figure out. I drew one up myself and went to the fabrication shop.”
The 378th EAMXS aircraft metals technology specialists made what Monaghan put on paper and through the process he found the other parts that would be required for the box. The outcome was a multiple receptacle junction box necessary for refuelers and other services to safely ground the aircraft during operations.
“Having the box eliminates needing to cut into the flight line to install more grounding points or just doing one truck at a time,” said Monaghan.
Finally to top the tank off, Monaghan’s multiple receptacle junction boxes are not aircraft specific. They can be used on any airframe in AFCENT’s arsenal, meaning PSAB is now capable of quickly refueling any other large military aircraft that may visit or be stationed at PSAB in the future.
In March, more than half-way through Monaghan’s deployment, nobody would have blamed him for laying low and doing his job for the remainder of his time at PSAB. The KC-10 squadron had just moved from Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates to a base still being built-up, after all. Taking the time to scour a bunch of technical jargon for a problem that wouldn’t have been his much longer, might have been the last thing many would have done.
However, through the determination that Monaghan and all who worked with him showed, they not only helped create a more agile fighting force, but were the embodiment of the core values of the Air Force: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all that we do.