EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
On Dec. 26, 2021, Interior Alaska was hit by the third largest rainfall on record and a winter anomaly. As soon as the temperature dipped back into the negatives, at least 2 inches of ice enveloped the base’s runway and heavily impeded flying operations.
The base’s snow removal machines and equipment proved ineffective against the thick layer of ice that remained. Eielson Engineers brainstormed and identified the easiest way to break the ice is to get under it. They approached Iceman Spark with this idea in mind.
Eielson’s Iceman Spark team, in collaboration with the 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron, 354th Civil Engineer Squadron and 354th Maintenance Squadron, prototyped a solution to restore the 354th Fighter Wing’s mission readiness status in a timely manner: the Flightline Ice Breaking Apparatus (FIBA).
“As Iceman Spark, we identified what was the most impactful and feasible thing we could do in a short time period, so we teamed up with [our Wing’s] Explosive Ordnance Disposal team to see if we could crack the ice using explosives. It was a risk to help determine a potential solution,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Philip Barry, 354th Fighter Wing director of innovation. “It was a failure. We created a hole in the ice but nothing actually cracked. After identifying that the tested experiment was a failure, we knew that LRS, CES and MXS were actively working behind the scenes and would find an innovative solution by collaboration.”
Iceman Spark worked alongside the 354th MXS, LRS and CES by connecting them with equipment and necessary materials they needed to come up with this innovation. Fabrication flight’s very own Tech. Sgt. Brian Kolk, aircraft metals technology noncommissioned officer in charge, rose to the occasion and was able to design the FIBA in just 18 hours.
“The FIBA is a plow-like attachment for a 10K forklift or a bucket loader for Snow Barn designed to rip up ice off of concrete and asphalt surfaces.” Kolk said.
The idea was inspired by the innovative 354th LRS Airmen’s demonstrated concept of using a 10K forklift to carry aircraft pallets.
They supported the collaborative effort by providing Snow Barn the forklift to which the FIBA was attached, said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Nokes, 354th LRS ground transportation operation center NCOIC.
Tech. Sgt. Zachary Wiltse, 354th Civil Engineering Squadron pavements and construction equipment noncommissioned officer in charge, expressed that the FIBA enhanced Snow Barn’s ice removal capabilities.
“The FIBA is great for us because we have plows that have the underbodies that can’t apply the direct down pressure we need to break up the ice,” Wiltse said. “The FIBA allows us to have that down pressure to get underneath the ice and pop it up in chunks and get it out of the way more effectively and quickly.”
While the success indicator of this innovation was an operational flightline, another impressive byproduct of it was the demonstration of multi-unit teamwork.
“It really is amazing how Airmen from different Air Force Specialty Codes teamed up to develop a solution that may further bond collaborative thought and design to lead our Airmen to solutions we can own and develop locally,” Barry said.