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Top two competitors for Spark Tank Finals selected

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brandon Esau
  • AFSOC Public Affairs

Air Force Special Operations Command announced its two 2021 Spark Tank semi-finalists and five wildcards moving on to compete at the Air Force level.

The selections were made by a team of judges, led by U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, commander of AFSOC.  The two semi-finalists from the command’s top seven submissions and the remaining five will move ahead to the challenge as wild card entries into the AF competition.

“Each year, I am excited to see the ideas that have developed within the AFSOC formation,” said Slife. “These ideas are more than simple improvements, they represent the genuine desire of Airmen to improve their units and increase mission capability. Also, these improvements will continue the important task of preparing AFSOC for future security challenges.”

Spark Tank is an annual event where Airmen pitch innovative ideas to top Air Force leadership and a panel of industry experts. Hosted each year at the Air Force Association’s Warfare Symposium, thousands of attendees watch as Air Force leaders encourage Airmen to disrupt the status quo.

Finalists are selected based on specific capabilities as well as concerns of safety, policy, Air Force-wide implementation, technical feasibility and scalability. Following the event, finalists receive project management support and other resources to implement their ideas.

AFSOC’s 2021 Spark Tank semi-finalists are:

Master Sgt. Christopher Zuest, section chief with the Air Force Repair Enhancement Program, 27th Special Operations Maintenance Group, Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.

Zuest and his team created a Universal Test Set which can save time by troubleshooting maintenance parts which are suspected to be faulty, and to validate assets after they’ve been repaired in the AFREP lab.

“The UTS was created over time by a collaborative effort between AFREP technicians to ensure our locally repaired assets were operationally tested and serviceable,” said Zuest. “We’ve been able to save time during testing, which creates the time that is now available for the technicians to complete more repairs, thus making more spare parts available to support the mission.”

Zuest also mentioned that the test set is only one small part of the mission to increase CV-22B Osprey tilt-rotator aircraft readiness, and it also has future applications for airframes in the Air Force.

“This test set can enable the associated AFREP’s to fix CV-22 parts that are deemed broken and beyond economical repair,” said Zuest. “Our UTS prevents grounding conditions for the aircraft by rapidly testing numerous parts -- this prevents the loss of sorties and critical hands-on training. Readiness will be improved when the number of spare parts increases and AFREP’s are more involved in aircraft components.”

Mr. William Walter, program analyst with Air Force Special Operations Command, AC-130 Requirements, Hurlburt Field, Florida.

As a former gunship crew member himself, Walter has taken his experience and knowledge and turned it into the low-cost training round for the AC-130J Ghostrider gunship.

“The purpose of the LCTR is to develop a low-cost alternative cartridge that mimics the ballistic parameters and visual impact signature of the significantly more expensive high explosive incendiary combat cartridge,” Walter said.

Walter even redesigned the existing PGU-15/B training round to add a pyrotechnic spotting charge which enables sensor operators to detect exactly where the projectile impacts.

Equally important, Walter stated that the LCTR would not only help the force financially by bringing down the cost from $136-139 per round to approximately $40-45 per round for LCTR rounds, but it also will help increase crew readiness and proficiency.

“Crews cannot be ‘too qualified or proficient’ but can certainly be under-qualified and/or not proficient,” said Walter. “The LCTR provides our crews with effective training ammunition in adequate quantities to help them meet training goals and allow them to always be ready to meet the mission.”

The five wildcard entries from AFSOC include:

  • CV-22 Fuel Cell Tool: Senior Airmen Joel Pashia and Joshua Smith, 1st Special Operations Maintenance Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida
  • 3-D Printed Tool Tray: Master Sgt. Troy French, 353rd Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan
  • Aircrew Readiness Mobile App: Capt. Ryan Decarlis, 16th Special Operations Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico
  • Interactive Intelligence Briefings: Maj. Joseph Siler, 492nd Special Operations Support Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida
  • Virtual and Augmented Reality Training: Maj. Devin Beckwith, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Florida

The Air Force Spark Tank Finals will be held during the Air Force Association’s Aerospace Warfare Symposium, February 2021.