Photo By Tech. Sgt. N. Alicia Goldberger | U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Christian Watson, an aircraft electrical environmental technician with the 461st Air Control Wing, demonstrates the use of an exoskeleton vest for maintenance on an E-8C Joint STARS at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., Feb. 26, 2019. The exoskeleton vest is part of an innovative practice to relieve muscle stress during long jobs where maintainers are working overhead. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Nancy Goldberger)

Story by 2nd Lt. Ronald Cole – 116th Air Control Wing Public Affairs

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. – Airmen from Team JSTARS 116th and 461st Maintenance Groups are now testing an exoskeleton vest while performing maintenance on the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems aircraft.

The exoskeleton vest is a device worn by maintenances technician while working in front of their body or overhead. It is designed to prevent fatigue and injury while performing tasks for extended periods of time.

“As we continue to drive revitalization of the Squadron, we seek new and innovative opportunities to lead our Airmen and increase mission readiness,” said Maj. Frederick Jackson, commander of the 461st Maintenance Squadron. “We see the exoskeleton vest as an opportunity to lead the way in test and evaluation of an innovative product that will save our maintainers time, while also helping to protect them from fatigue and injury.”

Six exoskeleton vests arrived at Team JSTARS in October 2018. The vests were purchased by the 461st Maintenance Group using innovation funds under the installation’s first Other Transactional Authority, or OTA, contracting vehicle.

Innovation funding is defense spending set aside by the U.S. Air Force with the purpose of developing and implementing immerging technologies intended to improve processes and advance the readiness and wellbeing of airmen.

Lt. Col. John York, commander of the 461st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, first learned about the exoskeleton vest last year and recognized it as an opportunity to make task achievement more effective for the maintainers he leads.

“I think the exoskeleton vest concept has the potential to change flightline operations and improve working conditions for our maintainers,” said York. “We hope it will enhance our Airmen’s ability to remain fit to fight and prevent some of the cumulative stress injuries that many maintainers struggle with over their careers. Finding effective ways to prevent those injuries is crucial to the long term readiness and retention of our Airmen.”
Airmen from Team JSTARS propulsion, electro-environmental, radar and crew-chiefs flights completed training December 2018 and incorporated the vests with guidance provided by the wing’s quality assurance office.
Team JSTARS anticipates incorporation of vests will prove beneficial and expect feedback from maintainers throughout 2019 that will determine viability of future investment in exoskeleton systems.