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One Air Force base’s trash has turned out to be a treasure for streamlining communications between ground forces and drone operators, thanks to a young sensor operator’s innovation.
The device—called “Frankenphone” as it is made up of various materials slated for scrap—increases communications quality while reducing piloting complications during flights of remotely piloted aircraft, or RPA, the preferred vernacular the Air Force uses for drones. Now in its third iteration, Frankenphone was developed by Staff Sgt. Marion at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., the Air Force reported as part of its “Through Airmen’s Eyes” series.
The problem Marion (the Air Force identified him by only one name) sought to fix was integrating communications systems with phone lines used by joint terminal attack controllers, or JTACs—individuals on the ground that call in targeted air strikes or close air support—that contact RPA sensor operators and pilots. JTACs call into phone lines, which previously forced pilots to pin phones between their ear and shoulder while continuing to fly aircraft and monitor computer readouts—like a really egregious distracted driver. Because of budget restraints, the phone lines were not integrated to the intercom system headsets worn by pilots.
To make matters worse, in a rather redundant process, pilots had to relay and repeat information from JTAC personnel to the rest of the aircrew through a radio device.
What the Frankenphone does is tie the phone line directly into the pilot’s headset intercom to keep the entire aircrew in the loop.