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100th MXS Airman innovates leak detection technology

Staff Sgt. Patrick Leach, 100th Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuels systems craftsman, uses the Pressurized Leak Detection Cup he designed Feb. 14, 2020, at RAF Mildenhall, England. The device has reduced leak detection time in fuel tanks by 75 percent and can potentially save the base more than $1 million annually. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Staff Sgt. Patrick Leach, 100th Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuels systems craftsman, uses the Pressurized Leak Detection Cup he designed Feb. 14, 2020, at RAF Mildenhall, England. The device has reduced leak detection time in fuel tanks by 75 percent and can potentially save the base more than $1 million annually. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

The Pressurized Leak Detection Cup sits on a table Feb. 14, 2020, at RAF Mildenhall, England. Designed by Staff Sgt. Patrick Leach, 100th Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuels systems craftsman, the device reduces the time needed to detect leaks within the fuel tanks of KC-135 Stratotankers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

The Pressurized Leak Detection Cup sits on a table Feb. 14, 2020, at RAF Mildenhall, England. Designed by Staff Sgt. Patrick Leach, 100th Maintenance Squadron aircraft fuels systems craftsman, the device reduces the time needed to detect leaks within the fuel tanks of KC-135 Stratotankers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

RAF MILDENHALL, England --

A 100th Maintenance Squadron Airman at RAF Mildenhall, England, has designed a device that decreases the time needed to detect leaks within aircraft fuel tanks.

Staff Sgt. Patrick Leach, 100th MXS aircraft fuels systems craftsman, created the Pressurized Leak Detection Cup with the help of the aircraft structural maintenance flight.

“My innovation is a 3D-printed cup which we can pressurize when pressed up against the surface of the aircraft,” Leach said. “This allows air to travel through any open channels in the surface and exit on the inside of the tank. We can then apply soapy water to the inside so we can see where the leak is coming through.”

The innovation is being used on the KC-135 Stratotanker, and Leach is in the process of getting it approved for other aircraft.

“It is issuable and certified for use on the KC-135,” said Leach. “We’re also working on pushing it out for other aircraft and getting the technical orders changed to actually implement it Air Force wide.”

The cup is manufactured using 3D printers, which leads to it being inexpensive to produce.

“It costs under $15 in materials to produce and will save approximately $1.5 million per year at RAF Mildenhall. It has a big bang for its buck,” said Mia Tobitt, 100th MXS self-assessment program and continuous process improvement manager. “Being 3D printed allows us the option to produce different forms of the cup so that it can be used for multiple applications.”

The cup reduces the time needed to detect leaks by 75 percent, improving the wing’s ability to more quickly deliver mission-ready aircraft capable of providing aerial refueling.

“It decreases down time for leak repair and frees maintenance personnel to accomplish other tasks,” said Leach.

In addition to impacting the aircraft fuels systems Airmen, Leach’s innovation also has the potential to affect other career fields.  

“It was primarily designed for fuel system repair but could be useful for any career field that deals with liquid containers such as vehicle maintenance or civil engineering.” Leach said.  

Leach believes workplace innovation can be replicated by other Airmen.  He recommends individuals look for opportunities to innovate in the areas of their job they find most frustrating.

“There is always a better way to do something,” said Leach. “If you don’t think what you’re doing is effective, work on it and make your life easier.”