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461st OSS Airmen collaborate to modify masks, reducing communication breakdown in field

Photo shows two Airmen standing while addressing a room.

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. – Staff Sgt. Trevallon Penney, 461st Operations Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment Chemical Defense Section non-commissioned officer-in-charge, right, and Capt. Robert Vance, a 461st OSS Aircrew Flight Equipment officer, discuss the benefits of their hybrid mask they created using elements from the M50 ground crew mask and the MBU-13/P mask at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, Oct. 13, to prevent communication interruptions between a pilot and his team. The pair came up with this innovation solution after they experienced a communications breakdown during a recent exercise utilizing their chemical gear. (courtesy photo)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

Two Airmen in the 461st Operations Support Squadron with the 461st Air Control Wing recently found a way to bridge the communication gap in the field while saving the Air Force some cash.

The M50 ground crew mask had the right fit for the 461st OSS’ chemical suits, but it did not equip its crew with the nonstop communication capability it needed during exercises and deployments.

While the MBU-13/P mask had the communication function the unit required, the mask’s inability to seal safely to the Airmen’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear gear coupled with its higher price tag crossed it off the list of workable solutions.

With a little ingenuity, however, Capt. Robert Vance, a 461st OSS Aircrew Flight Equipment officer, and Staff Sgt. Trevallon Penney, Aircrew Flight Equipment Chemical Defense Section non-commissioned officer-in-charge in the 461st OSS, were able to create the capability they needed, avoiding the cost of new equipment.

“The ground crew chemical suit doesn’t seal properly with the MBU-13/P mask,” Vance said. “However, we were able to borrow the microphone and a communication cable from the MBU-13/P mask to modify our M50 ground crew mask to help achieve the communication capability we needed.”

The modification will improve several areas of the Air Force mission globally, Vance said.

“This modification will provide unhindered communication between aircrew and ground personnel, which will have a huge impact on aircraft reliability, effectiveness, and more importantly, safety,” he said. “There are endless possibilities with this simple conversion. Our Airmen will be better equipped to project our warfighting capability worldwide.”

Col. Ed Goebel, 461st ACW commander, said the modified mask will enable Airmen to be better equipped for mission success.

“The need for our ground crews and aircrew to communicate quickly and effectively in combat operations, characterized by CBRN challenges, is paramount,” he said. “This modification to the M50 mask will help the Air Force prevent mission delays, in turn allowing us to place our Airmen and capabilities in the right place, at the right time, enabling mission execution.”