Two Hill Air Force Base electrical engineers, having solved a safety problem with protective aerial flare systems in F-16 jet fighters, are sharing a $5,000 reward.

David G. Chaston and David McNeill both work for the Aircraft Directorate, which handles maintenance and modification of the Air Force's fleet of F-16s.The F-16s are fitted with aerial flares that can be fired to confuse enemy heat-seeking missiles. In several cases, however, flares had been released inadvertently while F-16s were on the ground, causing injuries and property damage.

The Tactical Air Command decided to have all F-16s fitted with a General Dynamics-designed switch to disable the flares when a plane is at rest. That required Hill crews to make major modifications on each aircraft.

Chaston and McNeill believed the recommended switch, with an externally mounted relay, had several potential failure points and should be scrubbed.

"It required major wiring and changes that would have cost the Air Force a total of $3 million to $4 million," Chaston said. "We felt we had found an easier way to do it."

By making one cut in each plane's current wiring and adding 10 inches of extra wire, he said, "we eliminated many feet of wiring and several switches" which would create opportunities for other breakdowns.

In addition to the $5,000 they already have split, which Chaston said paid off his Christmas bills, the Air Force now is considering using the modification on several other aircraft, which could increase the duo's reward under the Air Force Suggestion Program.