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News | June 29, 2023

Walking the Innovation Talk at the Rock

By Major Heather Bashor 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

When Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Holman, 386th Expeditionary Wing Civil Engineering Squadron operations superintendent and Master Sgt. Trevor Wilkinson, 386th ECES facilities superintendent, arrived at Ali Al Salem Air Base six short months ago, they were charged with a mission:  Increase the night-time flying capability of the base.

As they set about trying to solve the complex, expensive, and most likely, multi-year project, they happened to stumble across the idea of solar runway lights as a more inexpensive and timely option.

Holman and Wilkinson got to work immediately researching the latest solar technology capabilities. They knew solar had improved over the last 10 years, and they just needed to find out if it truly could be a viable option.

After delving into the feasibility of solar runway lights, they put together a briefing with all the information they had gathered and prepared to present the option to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing leadership team.

 “It’s better because normally runways have two circuits and if one goes down, half of the lights shut off,” stated Wilkinson. “Whereas with solar, if one light goes down, only one light goes down.”

At first, there were many hurdles to overcome such as concerns regarding the operational security and fidelity of a solar runway lights system. As Holman and Wilkinson interacted with leadership, they returned to the drawing board multiple times in order to answer questions, solve problems, and demonstrate the potential for solar capability.

 “The only people who will know any different will be the technicians who work on it,” said Wilkinson. “It’s low voltage so it’s much safer to work on.”

“When you compare the two as far as maintenance, solar is less complex, simplified, and low maintenance,” expressed Holman. “Again, the safety piece is key.”  

Through their persistence, Holman and Wilkinson were able to acquire three individual solar runway lights and performed multiple tests on them in order to provide data that demonstrated just how successful the solar runway lights could be in the Kuwaiti desert terrain and environment.

In the end after presenting the final test data and the actual system capabilities at Ali Al Salem, the leadership team was convinced that solar runway lights were the way to move forward in order to more rapidly increase the night time flying capability.

 “Also, solar lights will provide the capability to switch runways at a moment’s notice,” stated Wilkinson.

“Yes, solar is mobile,” explained Holman. “You can pick it up and go. It will have a mobile trailer so you can take the solar lights where you need to go.”

Thanks to Holman and Wilkinson’s efforts, the Wing is moving forward with a ‘yes’ to the solar runway project. There are still many steps that need to be taken in order to acquire the systems, but the work of these two Airmen has pushed forward the timeline for increased night-time flying capabilities. Once permanent runway lights are expanded to more runways at Ali Al Salem, the mobile capability of the solar runway lights will also increase the agile combat employment (ACE) capability of the base.