Research, Development, Testing & Evaluation: Smithsonian Military Invention Day

Lt. Zachary McCune and Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Dahl showcased their Deployable Drop Kit innovation that provides survival gear as well as assets that help the Coast Guard relocate adrift survivors.

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Expanding Coast Guard mission drives need for innovation; latest inventions showcased at Smithsonian event

Written by Loretta Haring
Office of Strategic Planning and Communication, Acquisition Directorate

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Lt. Zachary McCune (left) and Aviation Survival Technician Jason Dahl talk about the Deployable Drop Kit (DDK) at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s Military Invention Day, May 18, 2019. The DDK was one of three Coast Guard innovations at the event. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Loretta Haring.

Lt. Zachary McCune and Aviation Survival Technician Jason Dahl, a pilot and a rescue swimmer, never thought of themselves as inventors. However, they were among three exhibits showcasing Coast Guard innovation at Military Invention Day, held at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, May 18, 2019.

“In the Coast Guard, we look for innovation from all areas and all levels of the organization, not just from the Research and Development Center (RDC),” said Cmdr. James Small, deputy chief of the Coast Guard Office of Research, Development, Test and Evaluation. “Events like the Smithsonian’s Military Invention Day reinforce the importance of innovation to our workforce, while showcasing how invention within the Armed Forces benefits the public.”

McCune and Dahl were exhibiting the Deployable Drop Kit (DDK) they and their team developed for use by Air Station Barbers Point. Other Coast Guard exhibits were Maritime Object Tracking Technology, which was developed through the joint Department of Homeland Security/RDC Science and Technology Innovation Center, and the Polar Scout project, a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate to investigate the viability of using very small satellites called CubeSats to aid Arctic search and rescue missions.

The Deployable Drop Kit was designed to include items that would help rescue assets locate adrift survivors and items that would make the wait for those assets safe and more comfortable for the people in need of assistance. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Loretta Haring.
The Deployable Drop Kit was designed to include items that would help rescue assets locate adrift survivors and items that would make the wait for those assets safe and more comfortable for the people in need of assistance. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Loretta Haring.

The DDK was developed because standard fixed-wing deployable equipment was not meeting the operational needs for Air Station Barbers Point’s mounting logistical challenge: a 14.4 million square mile coverage area and only a few airports remotely scattered across the vast expanse of the Pacific. The standard kits dropped from search planes “were not adequately equipped and did not have equipment most needed by survivors who might be adrift for multiple days at a time, a situation that is possible in Air Station Barbers Point’s area of responsibility,” Dahl said.

Development of the kit was encouraged by the commanding officer of Air Station Barbers Point at the time, Capt. Carl Riedlin. He wanted something that would help rescue crews that would be deployed to more quickly locate the people in distress and provide items beneficial to them while they remained adrift. On the practical side, he wanted something that would not create a lot of extra work for air station crews and that utilized standard configurations.

“Our Coast Guard workforce is full of innovative people who have the ability to make the service better through their creative ideas,” Riedlin said. “The team at Barbers Point was given a problem, and they came up with an amazing solution that helps save lives. It is important that the Coast Guard and the public recognize that innovations both big and small can have a huge impact.”   

To satisfy the survival portion, the DDK contains water packets, calorie-dense non-perishable food, a fishing kit, a space blanket/survival tarp combination, sunscreen, cord and a “7 Steps to Survival” card translated into seven languages. A radar-based search and rescue transponder, strobe light, signal mirror and handheld VHF radio were included to help rescue assets relocate the adrift survivors.

During its first year of usage, the DDK was successfully deployed three times for a total of eight lives saved. In all operational deployments, the transponder allowed the surface rescue asset to use onboard radar to find the adrift mariners and rescue them. The fact that the DDK can be located by commercially available X-band radar allows the Rescue Coordination Center to give a surface vessel the last known position, and allowed the use of the vessel’s radar to hone-in on survivors. This freed up the long range surveillance aircraft to return to home base and be available for additional tasking. The benefits of the DDK for Air Station Barbers Point resulted in a nomination for the 2017 Capt. Niels P. Thomsen Innovation Awards.     

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Aviation Survival Technician Jason Dahl explains how the components in the Deployable Drop Kit can be used to help people adrift in the ocean survive to a group of Girl Scouts attending the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s Military Invention Day May 18, 2019. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Loretta Haring.

“Of all the primary missions, the Coast Guard is perhaps best known for its ability to successfully conduct search and rescue operations,” McCune said. “It was rewarding to be able to contribute to that world-renowned capability. Our team was fortunate enough to be given the latitude and resources to leverage existing technologies to completely implement a solution, going from problem statement to full operational capability in a matter of weeks. In doing so, our team created a system that was more cost effective, more capable and more relevant to the survivors adrift at sea. Sometimes the most complex problems have the simplest solutions.”

Sponsored by the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Military Invention Day 2019 featured more than 30 displays from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and their associated research facilities.

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