8 Airmen receive $241K for innovation

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Travis Edwards
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Despite restrictions on movement and essential businesses due to the coronavirus pandemic, eight Airmen were awarded a combined total of $241,700 during Fairchild Air Force Base’s Spark Tank Innovation event, Innovation Madness.

In the “March Madness” themed innovation pitch competition, 12 Airmen from around the base came to deliver and persuade judges that their ideas were worth funding (up to $300,000).

Except this time, the second annual competition had to be adjusted to consider social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic; so instead of presenting the information to a panel of judges with a live audience, the contestants had to get a little more creative.

“COVID-19 has just highlighted how innovative, productive and effective our wing is and how we work together as a team to accomplish the mission,” said Maj. Mark Watson, 92nd Air Refueling Wing commander’s executive officer and officer in charge of this year’s Inland Spark Tank Event. “COVID-19 made us rethink how we could turn our regularly scheduled live pitch event in the base theater into a virtual pitch competition.”

Turning the competition into a virtual event may have been challenging, but it still allowed Airmen to receive the reward for innovation at Fairchild.

“Spark Tank competitions are designed to develop our Airmen’s minds and our wing’s processes, forging them into a skilled, cooperative, and agile systems that can out-think and out-maneuver any adversary,” said Watson. “Our wing not only gains the innovative solutions acquired and implemented by our Spark Tank awardees – it also gains innovation as a competency we all can utilize at Fairchild AFB and beyond.”

Products presented show the Airmen’s care for both other Airmen and saving Air Force funds – like the development of an upper body mechanical exoskeleton, an idea sparked by Staff Sgt. Francis M. LaScuola, Process Improvement Coordinator with the 92nd Maintenance Squadron. The exoskeleton is designed to reduce physical stress and fatigue experienced by Airmen whose daily workload consists of constant lifting, thus reducing job-related injuries and prolonging the Airman’s physical health.

“Overall, Spark Tank was a fair mix between fun and challenging, especially considering current events,” LaScuola said. “I hope we can continue to promote Spark Tank innovations all year, it’s extremely important for our Air Force’s future and encourages our young Airmen to continue to share their ideas.”

The winning eight innovators will now coordinate with their resource advisors, contracting officers, finance troops, and legal advisors to acquire, create prototypes, and implement their solutions into their workplaces.

Each innovator from Spark Tank or otherwise can also tap their Inland Spark Innovation Steering Committee for assistance – a trusted group of subject matter experts in their respective fields to help Airmen create, communicate, and deliver innovations.

Those ideas and prototypes can be used for those Airmen to compete at higher-level Air Force pitch competitions, such as the Air Mobility Command PHOENIX Spark Tank and the Air Force Spark Tank.

“The landscape of adversaries’ warfighting technology and capabilities is constantly changing across air, space, cyberspace, land and sea domains,” Watson said. “Our Air Force’s leadership in innovation comes from a full spectrum of unique competencies, ranging from core innovation that helps us quickly adapt to overcome emerging threats to leap innovations that deter adversary’s action, taking them out of the fight before it even begins.”

Protecting Airmen while continuing to foster their ideas in innovation to make everyday life better is how we compete, deter and win.