CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFNS) —
In 2015, the 3rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit was tasked with reducing cargo taken on an MQ-1 Predator alert package with the goal to decrease the need for two C-17 Globemaster IIIs to only one. Then Tech. Sgt. Bridget Carroll had an idea to help achieve this goal with the creation of a “bird-in-a-box” later known as the Digital Aircraft Link Emulator, or DALE.
Though Carroll created the solution, she was not met with instant success. Her journey took seven years.
Spring 2015 – Need was discovered.
July 2015 – First MQ-1 DALE prototype created.
September 2015 – Airman Powered by Innovation submitted.
Spring 2016 – Space Dynamics Lab at the University of Utah created two DALE MQ-9 Reaper prototypes.
August 2018 – Air Force Special Operations Command 2019 Spark Tank competition submitted.
October 2018 – API disapproval
October 2018 – Notified that MQ-9 DALE had won AFSOC Spark Tank Top 5.
February 2019 – DALE presented at Air Force Association Spark Tank.
Present – DALE Jr. developed and employed.
“If we could mobilize our capability without an actual aircraft then we could get down range and get operational faster,” Carroll said. “I had the idea to put the minimum amount of aircraft parts in a box to still do line-of-sight checks with our control stations after we set up a field site.”
During her planning phase of DALE, the Air Force was retiring the MQ-1, which resulted in a lower risk if the aircraft parts were damaged during the project’s initial stages.
“Once all the parts came in, I took the MQ-1 computer, gutted an electronics case that was awaiting DRMO, spliced cables, drilled mounting brackets, and pieced together the first “bird-in-a-box” prototype,” she said.
Before the existence of DALE, this process would require more than 10 Airmen to accompany the package, set it up and tow the remotely piloted aircraft around the airfield to ensure link connections were made.
Today, the DALE can be unloaded and ready for use with two Airmen in less than an hour. It is used to establish line of sight connections on a remote airfield and can be unloaded, set up and prepared for link checks in a more efficient manner.
Carroll’s idea and her creation of DALE serve as an inspiration for all Airmen to lean into innovation to accelerate change.
“Spark Tank is a chance to celebrate our Air Force risk-takers, idea makers and entrepreneurs who refuse to accept the status quo and have determined their own fate by developing solutions that make it easier for us to bring our very best to the fight,” said Lauren Knausenberger, Spark Tank director.
Innovation competitions like Spark Tank create an avenue for Airmen to think outside of the box and in Carroll’s case, put her idea in a box.
“Don’t give up,” she said. “There’s always people and other avenues out there that will help you.”
Staff Sgt. Chase Ward, 727th Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron avionics craftsman, began working alongside Carroll and the DALE jr. prototype last year and has witnessed the impact of her innovation. He said that the final version of DALE is in the process of being manufactured and sent out Air Force wide.
“I appreciate being able to watch this process go full circle,” Ward said. “It is awesome to know that our ideas do matter.”
Carroll’s journey and level of success is a testimony to hard work, dedication and the impact of empowering Airmen with a culture of innovation. She did not allow a hurdle such as not winning a competition prevent her from accomplishing her goals.