Yokota AFWERX spark cell, volunteers fix airfield overrun traffic lights

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Taylor Slater
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

After a severe lightning storm in early July rendered traffic control lights on the Yokota runway inoperable, the south airfield overrun has returned to normal operations, thanks to the joint efforts of volunteers from the Yokota AFWERX spark cell, ‘YokoWERX,’ and units across the 374th Airlift Wing.

Because the south overrun at Yokota allows personal vehicles to cross one of the most active and critical flightlines in the Indo-Pacific, finding a solution was critical.

“Each speciality had their own perspective,” said Tech. Sgt. Joshua Toellner, 374th Force Support Squadron manpower NCO in charge of continuous improvement and innovation, and YokoWERX innovation cell volunteer. “When we brought all of those perspectives together, we were able to form a more holistic and significantly faster solution.” 

In response to the sudden need to regain safe operation of the flightline and transit throughout the installation after the storm, multiple units came up with temporary measures to direct traffic. This countermeasure significantly increased commute times for personnel coming to and from the east side of the installation because of the high airfield operations tempo, especially in the midst of Yokota’s support for the largest Air Mobility Command exercise to date, Mobility Guardian 23.

“If anyone has an idea or a problem that they want to look into, [YokoWERX] enables and supports that,” Toellner said. 

YokoWERX functions as the innovation spark cell for the base to provide creative and technological solutions to problems that disrupt mission efficiency and is primarily volunteer-ran. The team contacted the 374th Operations Support Squadron Radar and Airfield Weather Systems section which was already at work, surveying solutions.

Unfortunately, the problem was more than just a stray burst of lightning; age had taken its toll on a nearly thirty-year-old system. Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Cox, 374th OSS RAWS section NCOIC of inspection and evaluations, found the manufacturer, but couldn’t locate any information on how the machine functioned or additional troubleshooting protocols. 

After coming up empty from the manufacturer, and with an urgent need to return the base to normal airfield and community transit, Cox got to work on a grassroots solution. He designed a new temporary system for the light using only a 3D printer and some spare parts lying around the RAWS unit. 

“Cox designed the whole switch,” said Staff Sgt. William Johnson, 374th Contracting Squadron NCOIC of resource advisors and YokoWERX project lead. “His expertise is in electronic devices and understanding circuit boards so he was absolutely crucial in understanding how the system operates and helping us.” 

YokoWERX also recruited volunteers from other units such as the 374th Communications Squadron and the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron to install the equipment properly. The installation of the new system began Aug. 25 and finished on Aug. 28 with little to no cost and only a few days of volunteer labor. The device is a temporary measure, with a permanent and more modern device planned for  installation within the next 18 to 24 months. 

Toellner and Johnson agreed that projects such as these truly highlight the value of the innovation cell and how they’re able to translate base leadership priorities into action.

“I never thought as an Airman I could say, ‘I'm gonna fix this, I’m gonna do this myself,’” Johnson said. “But that's really what YokoWERX does. Any problem that you have on base that has to do with getting the mission done, bring it to YokoWERX.”