Spark Tank 2021 finalists announced

It’s been nearly a year since Master Sgt. Gabriel Valenzuela, Capt. David Coyle and 1st Lt. Adam Treece were selected as co-winners of Spark Tank 2020 for their Smart Weapons Loading Checklist and Low-Cost Threat Emitter concepts.

Now, with 2021 underway, Air Force and Space Force leaders have selected five more ideas from the Spark Tank 2021 semi-finals board to be shared virtually with senior leaders at this year’s Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium Feb. 26.

Spark Tank-the Department’s capstone innovation campaign co-produced by the Air Force’s Deputy Chief Management Officer Rich Lombardi and AFWERX-unleashes the innovative capacity of Airmen and Guardians, reflecting leadership’s continued efforts to empower intrapreneurs, celebrate their problem-solving skills and give them a stage to share their projects with fellow service members and the world

“Spark Tank is a fantastic opportunity to showcase and celebrate Airmen and Guardian risk-takers, idea makers and intrapreneurs who refuse to accept the status quo, develop solutions that improve how our jobs are done,” said Brou Gautier, Spark Tank director.

Board members reviewed 15 submissions competing for the stage; the selection process looked at the need for specific capabilities as well as concerns of safety, policy, Air Force and Space Force-wide implementation, technical feasibility and scalability.

Spark Tank offers the opportunity to get their ideas in front of key enabling agencies that can share expertise and resources such as funding or personnel for the projects being presented and demonstrate pathways for intrapreneurs to make their initiatives successful.

Although only five ideas will be pitched on the virtual stage at this year’s Spark Tank, more than 300 Airmen and Guardians took the plunge and submitted ideas during the campaign on the Airmen Powered by Innovation ideation management platform, which spurred multiple mini-events at the major and field command level connecting Airmen and Guardians with local resources such as public affairs, finance, contracting and legal.

“Key themes included process and policy-change recommendations in addition to development of new products or applying existing products in new ways across the board in information technology, healthcare, and maintenance,” Gautier said. “Seeing the results of previous competitions, we noticed a spike in ideas about distributed computing, automation, unmanned systems, additive manufacturing, and sustainability, as well as cultural, diversity and inclusion ideas.”

In his 2020 strategic approach entitled Accelerate Change or Lose, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. asserts, “Our Airmen need us to integrate and accelerate the changes necessary to explore new operational concepts and bring more rapidly the capabilities that will help them in the future fights. To do this, we must … place capability in warfighters’ hands faster-through innovation, experimentation and rapid prototyping, and a collaborative approach with our service and industry teammates.”

Spark Tank 2021 finalists (in no particular order):

Master Sgt. Justin Bauer

355th Fighter Wing

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Air Combat Command

Innovative Approach to C-130 Wheel Repair

To address the shortage of C-130 wheels, Master Sgt. Justin Bauer designed a heating element that fits the wheel, heating only the portion required by applicable technical data. This heating element only requires 120 volts of electricity making it accessible to every DoD facility. It weighs just three to five pounds, and reduces the repair time.

Maj. Kevin Hawkins, 1st Lt. Daniel Treece, Mr. Dylan Kerr of Arizona State University

56th Fighter Wing

Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Air Education and Training Command

Next Gen Debrief – Augmented Reality Debrief Environment

A team from Luke Air Force Base, in partnership with Arizona State University’s Luminosity Lab, developed the Next Gen Debrief, a concept that utilizes augmented reality systems to create a shared environment in which mission participants debrief in a virtual scene, projected into their current environment. This projection provides a truly three-dimensional representation of events, while also displaying key data and flight parameters. Ultimately, this exercise improves identification and internalization lessons learned when analyzing complex flight events. The information gathered can be shared across multiple locations.

Col. Thomas K. Swoveland, 2nd. Lt. Mark Seay, Tech. Sgt. Ananias Ross, Mr. Anthony Apodaca, Ms. Crystal Kelley, Mr. Bryan Gilbrech

United States Air Force Academy

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Improving Commander’s Support Staff Workflow with Office 365

A team from the United States Air Force Academy developed a ticketing system to manage submissions, track status updates, monitor communication and ensure resolution. Office 365 provided the tools to design and deploy the system on computers, tablets and mobile devices. One Power Apps app allows users to submit requests and track status while another allows CSS members to assign, add notes/attachments, and mark actions as complete. SharePoint stores the data while Power BI produces live dashboards for status and flagging overdue actions.

Maj. David Steward, Col. John Tran, Master Sgt. Chris Pettingill, Master Sgt. Anthony Taylor, Master. Sgt. Charles Morrison, Tech. Sgt. Chris Anderson

100th Air Refueling Wing

RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom, United States Air Forces Europe/Air Forces Africa

Inner Ear Bone Conduction Communication

Bone conduction technology removes ambient noise and voice constraint when operating in loud or MOPP conditions by allowing augmented sound through external microphones to allow the wearer the ability to hear surrounding noise. This improves situational awareness while wearing noise cancelling hearing protection. In addition, using this device improves radio communications while wearing respirators, masks, and or other voice obstructing devices. Hearing protection offers inner ear hearing protection higher than current over the ear headsets.

Master Sgt. Jason Yunker, Master Sgt. Timothy Peters

52nd Fighter Wing

Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, United States Air Forces Europe/Air Forces Africa

Viper Hot Refuel Kit

The VIPER Hot Refuel Kit takes existing petroleum oil and lubricant components and uniquely configures them into a small, hot pit ready package, completely eliminating the need to transport refueling trucks. A custom “sled” built to carry the components doubles as secondary containment to eliminate environmental impact. This equipment will utilize host nation or civilian airport refueling equipment to support fifth generation fighters, as well as any USAF airframe, anywhere in the world. The VIPER kit eliminates a $6,000 per truck, per shipment, (one way), cost by allowing the USAF fuels personnel to utilize host nation/installation infrastructure.

Audience members will be able to vote on finalist’s projects during the Air Warfare Symposium; voting will open Feb. 26 at 12 p.m., and will close 60 seconds after the last presentation is completed.

To vote, visit:

Airmen share the Spark Tank trophy after Air Force and industry leaders declared a two-way tie at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium, in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 28, 2020. The three-day event is a professional development forum that offers the opportunity for Department of Defense personnel to participate in forums, speeches, seminars and workshops with defense industry professionals. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson)

The Spark Tank trophy is back up for grabs at this year’s Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium Feb. 26, 2021. At last year’s event, Airmen shared the trophy after Air Force and industry leaders declared a two-way tie. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson)

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