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A Peterson sergeant's innovation takes flight briefings into the digital age

October 2, 2017 Updated: October 2, 2017 at 4:05 am
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Staff Sgt. Jason Turton spearheaded a yearlong $50,000 effort to move the base's flight planning into the digital age.(Photo by U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dennis Hoffman via buckley.af.mil)

Air Force planes may look like they lance through the air, but they actually float along on a sea of paper.

Pilot paperwork for preflight briefings is so extensive that somewhere a tree dies for nearly every sortie.

But that's all changing thanks to a Peterson Air Force base staff sergeant and bosses eager to hear new ideas from the new generation of airmen.

"This is an Air Force first," said Staff Sgt. Jason Turton, who spearheaded a yearlong $50,000 effort to move the base's flight planning into the digital age.

Turton, an airfield management expert, took a process that required a pile of books and maps and reduced it to a touch-screen television.

It's a change the military has talked about for decades, but has never accomplished in full. Flight crews carry tablet computers for use on planes, but the preflight briefing isn't much different from what bomber pilots received during World War II.

Technicians such as Turton walk the crews through their plans, giving them books and airfield maps to get them through the trip safely while ensuring they're prepared for the weather they'll see on the way and understand details of the airport on the other end.

It's a time-tested method, but it's expensive, said Turton's civilian boss, Courtney Davis.

Airports change, requiring new books and maps at a rapid pace. The printing and shipping bill piles high across the Air Force.

Digital information updates as quickly as the internet allows.

"All this data will always be current," Turton said.

Turton had the idea, but getting it past the Air Force brass required a boss who was open to innovation.

Davis regularly grills his airmen for new ideas.

"You want airmen to be more innovative," Davis said. "You want to open that aperture."

Getting ideas from the ranks is a key objective for Air Force chief Gen. David Goldfein, who has been pushing for months to gather ideas like Turton's.

Turton also had the advantage of working at Peterson, which falls under Air Force Space Command, which runs the service's computer network.

Now, pilots at Peterson gather online data including up-to-the-second maps from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. If they need paperwork, there's a printer to give them what they need rather than a big book.

The system is in use. Paperwork is kept handy in case the computers go down. The system is being studied by the Air Force and could be adopted servicewide.

As for Turton, his initiative was recognized with an invitation to attend officer training school, where he'll trade his stripes for a lieutenant's bars.

Peterson airfield manager Kevin Weaver said Turton earned the chance at promotion.

"Nobody took that step forward until he took that step forward," Weaver said.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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