They Dare to Do, Dream and Fail
// Story by Gabriel Lee
// Photos by Chua Soon Lye
Their ingenious tweak has not only saved the Air Force Engineers of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) 94 percent of time spent on repairing the wing position light of an F-15SG, but has also been recognised by the aircraft manufacturer Boeing.
The idea of the team of Air Force Engineers from 817 Squadron (SQN): to replace the Light Emitting Diode (LED) module in the wing position light of the F-15SG instead of sending the entire assembly for repair whenever the F-15SG's wing position lights is faulty.
What seemed like a simple solution to a simple problem, however, had a huge impact within and beyond Singapore’s shores.
"Although the current practice (of replacing the entire assembly) is an established one, we could not take it lying down, especially when we realised that swapping out the individual component would save the RSAF time and money," said ME3 Ng Yong Yong, Flight Lead of 817 SQN’s Electrical Instrumentation Flight.
Hence, the team decided to propose a bold change be made to the status quo. Their pioneering journey to replace the LED module, however, was not at all turbulence-free.
First, to change the F-15SG’s wing position lights, aviation orders mandated that the entire lighting assembly had to be changed instead of just the faulty node. There was also uncertainty on whether such a replacement might reduce the assembly’s ability to withstand substantial air loads.
"Additionally, we had to convince the airworthiness authorities that the process was sustainable as the LED module had no conspicuous identification number," recalled ME3 Ng.
Finally, the team was uncertain whether the aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, would be convinced. "There was much negotiation involved. If Boeing didn’t agree to our proposal, then it would also be difficult to convince the airworthiness authorities," remarked ME3 Ng.
But the team refused to give up despite these challenges. Notably, the support rendered by their superiors was a source of motivation. The team highlighted: "The Squadron’s management was supportive of our plans. They allowed us to dedicate some time to implementing them."
To address the uncertainty on whether the proposed procedure would reduce the wing position lighting assembly’s ability to withstand substantial air loads, the team scoured through technical manuals and engineering standards for similar procedures to base their process on.
They even went to the extent of meeting Boeing’s technical representative during an overseas deployment exercise to Mountain Home, Idaho, to discuss the feasibility of their plan.
The discussions held among themselves and with technical experts ultimately enabled the team to bring their plans to fruition. This was done by establishing the exact torque load to ensure that the module could withstand the considerable air pressure a fighter jet undergoes at high speeds.
Next, to convince the F-15SG system managers on the proposed solution’s replicability, the team researched on ways to ascertain the identification number of the LED module.
Eventually, the team painstakingly traced the part to a subcontracted manufacturer with the help of Boeing. "We checked with Boeing whether this particular module was procurable, and Boeing also did their part to induct it into the supply chain," commented ME3 Ng.
On Monday, the team was recognised for their innovation, and more importantly, for their resilience — the team has emerged as one of seven "Dare to Do" award winners at this year’s Public Service Transformation (PST) Awards, out of 73 nominations.
The award recognises the spirit of risk-taking and perseverance in the public sector. It honours public service officers who were able to identify new opportunities to do things, had the courage to take risks, overcame failure and had the perseverance to try and learn iteratively.
Describing their win as unexpected and an honour, the team said: "It's not so much about winning than it is about failing for us. In fact, we failed numerous times when executing our project. But the most important thing is that we never gave up. We dare to fail."
And staying true to their spirit of innovation, the team is currently working on a similar project to expand the application of this idea to other parts of the aircraft.
"Be resilient and persevere once you have committed yourself to a greater purpose. Even if your hard work comes to naught, at least you would have learnt something in the process."