Pease Airmen spark innovation

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Aaron Vezeau
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing

New Hampshire Airmen cheered and rattled blue inflatable tubes as Staff Sgt. Michael Morris was recognized as the winner of the 157th Air Refueling Wing’s first Spark Tank Alpha event, held March 8, 2020 at Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H.

The event is an Innovation Lab initiative to find, develop and present ideas Airmen have to improve the Air Force.

“Today’s event was really cool,” Morris said. “It was great seeing the turnout that we had. All the noise makers and everything was a really good feeling.”

Morris, a KC-46 crew chief with the 157th Maintenance Group; Tech. Sgt. Jason Cuhna, 157th MXG; and Senior Airman Emma Nofsker, 157th Logistics Readiness Squadron; presented their innovation ideas to a panel of four judges.

Morris proposed using thermal cameras as a tool to find potential leaks in oxygen lines and hydraulic systems in the KC-46 during routine maintenance inspections.

“The oxygen system provides the air we breathe while at altitude,” said Morris. “Without the oxygen system, we’re passing out.”

Morris demonstrated the outdated process still in use, which entails pouring soapy water over the oxygen system and then looking for bubbles.

Morris estimated using thermal cameras instead of soapy water would save the unit around 57 man-hours per inspection, resulting in saving money and greatly improving maintenance turn-around times.

Cuhna proposed using a computer-controlled laser cutter to improve accuracy and repeatability of manufacturing aircraft repair parts.

Nofsker presented a mobile equipment inventory solution that would enable Logistics Readiness Squadron personnel to realize an approximate 60% improvement in time saved when processing KC-46 parts.

“There’s a need to develop innovative solutions to address process efficiency without compromising safety and quality to improve today’s Air Force,” said Cuhna.

Despite each presenter receiving four “sparks” from the judges, ultimately Morris was declared the winner.

Guest judge, Capt Emily Fisher, a maintenance system software portfolio owner with the Air Force’s Kessel Run project in Boston, said she loves to be part of events like Spark Tank Alpha.

“It really helps the Airmen think that this idea of innovation and process improvement is something they need to be thinking about every day of their life,” said Fisher. “It’s great to see all the young Airmen of all ages and ranks and what they can do to improve their jobs.”

Another guest judge, Russell Miles, University of New Hampshire, senior lecturer decision sciences, said events like Spank Tank Alpha are important to have people “think outside the box” of their usual job duties.

“When you bring other people into the audience to view the presentations, it sparks ideas for additional innovation,” said Miles. “And it builds like in a brainstorming way.”

Other judges included Col. Todd Swass, Wing vice commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Erica Rhea, Wing command chief.

“To get funding for our idea is a great feeling,” said Morris.