JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
Two U.S. Air Force 1st Fighter Wing Airmen use the 1st FW innovation lab to help wing personnel continue the mission during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lab provides resources to research and create masks that could then be distributed to personnel to help fight the spread of the virus.
“At first, I was only working on the filter case study,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Schaeffer, 1st Maintenance Squadron F-22 Raptor egress craftsman. “I met up with another NCO who was working on a mask and said let's combine our ideas and make something super-efficient. “
When news dropped that uniformed personnel were required to wear masks, it became difficult for some units to provide masks to everyone. With the resources of the innovation lab, Schaeffer and Tech. Sgt. Daniel Caban, 1st Maintenance Group Air Force Repair Enhancement Program technician, began working together to come up with something to help their wing.
“It didn't come to my mind until I was asleep that same night and started thinking about how pilot masks have a proper seal,” said Schaeffer. “They are made for different people depending on their size and I realized, why make a one size fits all mask that is beneficial to everyone?”
Throughout the whole process, Schaeffer and Caban worked with AFWERX, a community of Air Force innovators whose goal is to connect Airmen to solutions through funding, collaborating with industry personnel or just guidance on a project.
“AFWERX gave me the appropriate resources, the right people to talk to and all the materials I needed in order to construct the prototype itself,” said Schaeffer.
The masks are 3D printed with a plastic filament and fitted with a filter cut from non-expired gas mask filters that are no longer in use.
“Making the masks in house allows us to eliminate supply issues,” said Caban. “It eliminates the uncertainty and even if we have a full supply we will still have this as a backup plan.”
“With the support of the other people, we were able to produce about 30 more per day which then skyrocketed to around 200 masks per day,” said Caban.
While their main goal was to provide masks to personnel at the 1st FW, Schaeffer also published the designs to the DoD Innovation Network, so other people can print and create their own masks as well.
Even during a time such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Airmen continue to use their resources to innovate and help wherever and whenever they can.