At Yokota Air Base in Japan airmen have used a 3D printer and some ingenuity to modify a standard-issue respirator into an aircraft oxygen system, potentially saving millions of dollars and improving aircrew safety.

Yokota’s 374th Maintenance Squadron and 374th Operations Support Squadron came up with the idea of hooking up an M-50 joint-service, general-purpose mask, to an aircraft during a brainstorming session.

“We took the mask and added some off-the-shelf parts and some 3D-printed parts and converted it into a piece of equipment that can work in an aircraft,” said Senior Master Sgt. David Siemiet, an aircrew flight equipment superintendent.

The equipment currently used, the Aircrew Eye/Respiratory Protection System, or AERPS, is expensive, heavy and fault prone with long waits for replacement parts, said C-130 Hercules pilot Capt. Matthew Kohl. Taking this on board the Maintenance and Operations Support Squadrons have designed a prototype in which the air flows through the M-50’s chemical filters to the user, whose eyes are protected by goggles, Siemiet said.

The modification, which the airman call “AERPS Ultra,” uses a few standard parts and two components made on a 3D printer that aircraft materials technology craftsman Sen. Airman David Petrich bought for a few hundred dollars of his own money.

It costs only about 75 cents to modify one mask, and the project has the potential to save the Air Force at least $8 million and countless man hours, according to Tech. Sgt. Eric Lundeen, another aircraft materials technology craftsman involved in the project.

The M-50 weighs less than a pound, a lot less than the 40 pounds of chemical-protection gear now used by aircrew. Unlike the current system, the lighter masks don’t need a power supply that must be hooked to on-board electricity and uses expensive batteries, Petrich said.

“You can wear the mask onto the plane and latch in and you are good to go,” he said.

The mask modifications can be done on base without the need to pay a contractor, Siemiet added.

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