Innovative temperature tool safeguards boosters

Shown is a tool developed to replace the current system monitoring temperatures of boosters in storage, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.

Shown is a tool developed to replace the current system monitoring temperatures of boosters in storage, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. The current system has features from early 2000s, showing its age through faulty alerts and inability to cope with cold weather. (U.S. Air Force photo by Beau Wade)

Staff Sgt. Matthew Thorn, 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron team chief trainer, stands next to a transporter-erector Jan. 30, 2019, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.

Staff Sgt. Matthew Thorn, 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron team chief trainer, stands next to a transporter-erector Jan. 30, 2019, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Thorn developed a tool using modern technology to improve the quality of life of his wingmen and better protect boosters in storage. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tristan Truesdell)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson often emphasizes the importance of innovation and how it is needed to maintain a warfighting advantage. Innovation is essential and critical to lethality and readiness, an aspect of Air Force Global Strike Command's mission.

Airmen throughout the Air Force have been coming up with ideas to better their units and establish a new Defense Department norm.

Among those innovators is Staff Sgt. Matthew Thorn, 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron team chief trainer.

"Thorn is one of the most mechanically-inclined people I've ever met," said Master Sgt. Kalton Nelson, 341st MMXS missile handling team noncommissioned officer in charge.

"His knowledge and understanding of all things mechanical is pretty incredible," he added.

As a member of a missile handling team, part of Thorn's mission is to monitor the temperatures of boosters in storage by using a temperature tool.

He also knew the tool needed an update as it was causing problems for personnel and he took steps to modernize it.

"The main fault with this system is the age, as it has been in use since the early 2000s," said Thorn.

Problems with the current tool

Firstly, motherboards within the temperature tool frequently malfunction and fail to send alerts when temperatures fall out of balance, which could pose a risk to the boosters.

"The temperature probes regularly go from 80 degrees to minus 20, too," said Thorn. "We would get constant false alerts and personnel would work all hours of the night."

In addition to costing manpower hours, the tool could pose a risk when it malfunctions and the booster would need to be sent out to be inspected for damage, at the cost of millions of dollars.

Other problems include the temperature tool losing programming memory and its roster of phone numbers. The cords on the tool are also too thick and would get damaged or cut by doors.

"Sometimes when the facility power goes out, it shuts down our telephone lines and doesn't allow the tool to operate during an emergency," Thorn added.

Out with the old, in with the new
As a solution for these problems, Thorn developed a new system.

He was so dedicated to figuring out how to fix the problems with the temperature tool, Thorn used his own money and bought a heating bulb for reptile enclosures to keep the project going, even when shop funding ran out.

"I took the unit and fully rebuilt it," he said. "I added power supplies and repurposed the alarm relay and turned on the heater inside the unit."

The biggest fix is the use of the lightbulb, which Thorn installed to keep the unit warm in Montana's cold weather. With the old temperature tool, cold weather would give false readings and set off alerts.

"I tested the new unit with the lightbulbs to determine the power needed to keep the unit warm while being exposed to Montana's cold elements," said Thorn.

The lightbulb solved that problem, and in the future it will have a custom-built heater to keep the temperature at or within a degree of what is set.

Power outages, a problem with the older unit, are no longer an issue since Thorn hooked up the new tool to a 4G LTE service.

Networked with the new system, a person can be in another country and still monitor temps, according to Thorn.

"NCOICs of the shop can control and monitor user's change control and watch temps over a long-range data-logging graph," he said.

"This new unit is not limited to sending just temperature readings," he added. "There are more than 100 other readings it can take and alert the team on."

Thorn hopes these modernization efforts will eventually become a DOD-wide norm. Ideally, he would like to supply all missile bases with the new tool.

"Going forward with this, I believe there will be more Airmen willing to look at a problem and see their own ways to improve and do so," said Nelson.

"Thorn loves problem-solving and jumps at the chance when he can help fix issues," he continued. "He has an incredible effect on the others in our shop."
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