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AFSOC leadership picks Spark Tank Competition semi-finalists

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Lynette Rolen
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs

Air Force Special Operations Command’s leadership gathered to judge the command’s top five innovative ideas during AFSOC’s Spark Tank Competition.

Two ideas were selected for competition at the Headquarters Air Force level and potential presentation at the Air Force Association in Orlando at the end of February.

AFSOC's Spark Tank Competition occurs annually and took place Oct. 17, 2019, at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

The 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron from Hurlburt Field, Florida, presented the idea of conducting roof inspections via Small Unmanned Aerial Systems. The 27th SOCES from Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, presented the idea of an airfield joint sealant removal tool.

“Congratulations to these two,” said Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, commander of AFSOC. “We look forward to watching you compete and hopefully compete successfully at the Air Force level. They’re the ideas that have the broadest Air Force applicability and could be adopted by the rest of the Air Force.”

The implications of both ideas submitted are not solely unique to AFSOC; they can be applied to civil engineer squadrons across the whole Air Force.

The 1st SOCES’s idea of using SUAS to conduct roof inspections saves more than 1,000 labor hours for civil engineer squadrons. It would also reduce roof inspection time from five hours to 20 minutes.

“This is a capability that saves a ton of time,” said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Cervantes, 1st SOCES structural craftsman and the idea’s creator. “This is 21st century technology, we can bring this to the Air Force right now. This is not lasers and space travel, this is concrete. We can make it happen.”

The premise behind the idea is to utilize SUAS to collect imagery of rooftops. Once the imagery is gathered, assessment is done on the rooftop status. Currently, rooftop inspections are conducted with a four-person team.  

“We’re doing more with less and we’re enabling CE shops to utilize their time effectively,” said 1st Lt. Christopher Locke, 1st SOCES officer in charge of military contracting programs. “Instead of doing 417 inspections over 20 months, they can do 417 inspections in two months. Then they have 18 other months to just focus on work tasks which also increases their contingency skills.”

Cervantes added that the inspection method is not a new way of doing things, it’s just a tool CE shops can use to cut down on time.

The 27th SOCES, in a similar vein of saving time and labor hours, created and tested an airfield joint sealant removal tool. Typically, joint sealant is removed by hand.

“Pulling airfield sealant by hand is really difficult,” said Airman 1st Class Richard Winkelbach, 27th SOCES pavements and construction equipment apprentice. “It involves our guys literally crawling along the joints on their hands and knees to extract the sealant from the joints. We wanted something to make the job easier on us. With the joint plow (tool), we were able to keep guys off their hands and knees and still get the amount of sealant removed that we had hoped to.”

The tool attaches to motorized equipment and works like a plow to remove old joint sealant. Joint sealant removal is key to maintaining the integrity of airfield surfaces. The tool will allow CE Airmen to remove 10,000 linear feet of joint sealant per week. Typically, when this task is performed by hand, between 500-1,000 linear feet of joint sealant is removed per week.  

Winkelbach and his fellow CE Airmen constructed the tool out of scrap materials, totaling about $200. Winkelbach said he hopes the tool can be implemented across the Air Force and even in the civilian sector, where it can be used to make similar work easier.

The other three ideas were a virtual sand table for virtual mission planning, an innovative search and rescue beacon and paperless maintenance operations.

“Each one of these ideas has merit,” said Slife. “Let me further that by saying that every one of you is going to walk out of here happy today. At the major command level, we want to support every one of these ideas, and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to support and get behind these ideas because I think that every one of them solves problems that Airmen at the unit level are experiencing and that’s our job at the MAJCOM—removing the barriers to Airmen being as successful as they can be.”