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Innovation in the Cloud(s): Inside AETC’s Push for Mobile Applications in the Cockpit

By 2nd Lt. Austen Jarboe | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | May 3, 2019

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —

Pilots across the Air Force manage flight information with ease using mobile devices known as Electronic Flight Bags, or EFBs. These tablet computers minimize cockpit clutter and allow aviators to access critical data and publications in seconds, reducing their “heads-down” time in the air and increasing their situational awareness.

The success of these devices in the operational Air Force has encouraged Air Education and Training Command to find a way to integrate the technology earlier in an aviator’s career, enhancing training through digital efficiency. Developed as the Pathfinder program in 2018, the 12th Operations Group has been the lead organization for developing the EFB program at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, with the goal of expanding the initiative across AETC.

The first major rollout of the EFB has been overseen by a small team within the 12th Training Squadron, beginning with an initial delivery of 1,020 iPad tablets in October 2018.

“We opened every iPad individually, installed screen protectors and cases, barcoded, inventoried and prepared for configuration,” said 2nd Lt. Sascha Newberry, 12th student pilot and EFB technician.

Since the first delivery, the inventory has grown to 1300 iPad tablets worth more than $500,000. One of the initial challenges the team faced was how to accurately account for valuable assets issued to multiple organizations across the base.

“We developed a web application called NEXUS to inventory the devices, utilizing the user’s Common Access Card to track who each tablet was issued to,” said Maj. Vince Giacomino, 12th assistant director of operations and EFB program manager.

Forgoing the physical collection and storage of inventory data, moving NEXUS into the online “cloud” allows the program to become “location neutral” and extremely flexible for future development.

“With cloud computing, you only pay for the amount of computing power that you need,” Newberry said. “It is very scalable and reduces our investment in infrastructure.”

With access to the system through a standard internet connection, asset managers anywhere in the world can account for their specific EFBs with the click of a button.

Once the EFBs were accounted for, the next challenge was properly configuring them for the needs of multiple squadrons with different mission sets.

“We use a system called MaaS 360 that allows us to monitor, configure and manage our tablets remotely,” Newberry said.

MaaS 360 stands for Mobility as a Service 360 and is a mobile device management solution developed by IBM. From their web-based platform, all connected tablets can be accessed and configured no matter where they are physically located. Any function you can physically perform with the tablet in your hand can be done remotely through the program.

“MaaS 360 allows us to load application and flight publication profiles specific to each individual squadron’s mission,” Newberry said.

With just under 1,000 EFBs currently issued, the program has had a significant impact on flight operations at JBSA-Randolph. The goal is to further expand the program to flight training bases across AETC.

“The EFB program is designed to be scalable, either to transplant the program to another location or directly support non-local units through the cloud,” Giacomino said.

The team at 12th TRS has worked hard to serve as the test bed for future functionality, finding and solving the challenges associated with digital inventory and content management.

“I think we’ve done a good job of building a blueprint and laying the foundation for it to be exported across AETC, so EFB programs can flourish everywhere,” Newberry said.