OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
For more than a half-century, Offutt pilots and navigators have carried heavy bags full of manuals and publications during their missions.
These manuals included everything from detailed instructions on how to manually lower landing gear to instructions on landing aircraft at remote airfields in the farthest corners of the world. All together, these bags could weigh as much as 250 pounds, depending on mission requirements.
Frequently updating them to meet changing technology, procedures and airfield infrastructure required an excessive amount of man hours and resources. To Offutt's aircrew and support staff, much of that process will change as the operations group begins phasing out bulky, paper manuals with Apple iPads as Offutt transitions to electronic flight bags.
“It's amazing how transitioning from paper to an EFB will make a difference in how we fly at the 55th Wing,” said Col. Joe Santucci, 55th Operations Group commander. “It's not just about real-time updates for the crews and far fewer items to carry onboard. It's about folding 55th aircraft and operations into modern publication standards and meeting airspace expectations.”
The operations group has been testing 10 of the EFBs for the past four months and will begin issuing the remainder of the 357 EFBs to pilots and navigators as early as this month.
Capt. Bryan Allebone, who is a fulltime Nebraska Air National Guard member and instructor navigator assigned to the 238th Combat Training Squadron, played a major role in getting approval for the EFB program. He said they are already seeing benefits in mission planning. Before, every one of the 10 mission planning rooms across the base had to have the same manuals as an actual aircraft, which required updating about 40 timers per year. This was done by personnel from each squadron. Now they are able sync the EFBs providing instant access to flight information by anyone with an EFB.
“We spent thousands of man-hours each year updating them,” Allebone said. “Now, we administer it, and once you click sync, you get all that new information no matter where you are in the world.”
He said there’s no limit to the way they can utilize the EFBs. One planned use involves linking Offutt’s Merlin bird radar display, which gives aircrew members s real-time picture of the density of bird activity around the air field and potential for bird strikes. Before, they would have to check with base operations or the tower prior to a mission. Often, conditions would change by the time they arrived at the jet.
“It keeps us really safe,” Allebone said. “The radar is true, it’s science. It’s showing you what’s out on the airfield at any moment.”
Much of the Air Force has already transitioned to some form of EFB, but Offutt has been slow to adopt the program due to the wing’s sensitive ISR mission. Getting the devices approved required someone with a technical background who could mitigate security concerns, but who could also apply the technology to mission planning capabilities. Capt. Allebone, who has a prior background in information technology, was able to find solutions to the security concerns that allowed the EFB program to go forward.
The program will have a major impact on the way Offutt aircrew prepare for missions.
“It all translates to an even more responsive ISR fleet for the Air Force,” Santucci said. “And thanks to Capt Allebone and his team for the fantastic work. Moving all of us forward comes down to innovative Airmen dedicated to improving our mission.”
The EFBs are also increasing productivity in other areas.
“They are multitasking more just because they have access to more information,” Allebone said. “Mission planning seems to take a lot less time too.”
The operational support staff that assembles the flight information publications are also excited for the change. It will significantly reduce the amount of time they spend updating flight information publications and will reduce the amount of waste incurred from disposal of expired material.
Additionally, they will be able to work more with technology and skills they were traditionally taught as cyber security specialists.
“It looking like we’re probably going to have a big piece in enforcing policy, which is what our job is all about, said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Colonna, one of the Airmen assigned to the combat crew communications office of the 55th Operational Support Squadron. “We’re in a special duty over here so we don’t get to do what our career field would do on a day-to-day basis.”
Program organizers are currently standardizing the EFBs and hope to begin issuing them soon for an initial trial period. They will gather feedback from aircrew members during this time, and if all goes well, the EFBs will soon replace paper manuals as the primary source for flight information.
Allebone said they are finding new ways to utilize the EFBs capabilities every day.
“Now that we have the device, we can just take it where our imagination goes,” Allebone said.