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97 AMW Spark Cell: igniting new innovation

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Miyah Gray
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Spark Cell was implemented with the intent of providing a means for Airmen to solve problems at the wing level and encourage innovation. Through the use of Spark Cell, 97th OG Airmen were able to achieve two big innovative projects. Airmen from the wing designed and created new lighting mounts for use in the Sooner drop zone and new adjustable chin rests for KC-135 boom operators.

The suggestion for newer chin rests was brought to attention by a questionnaire from the innovations office. The request was made due to the strain put on boom operators’ necks and backs while in their duty position.

“After interviewing some of our boom operators and going out to the jets to look at the design of the chin rests, I learned that the design was a nut and bolt system made of aluminum, which would require constant lubrication to avoid galling and seizing,” said Capt. Mark Richardson, 54th Air Refueling Squadron chief of innovations. “In a lot of our tankers, the chin rests have seized, leaving them stuck in one position, which may not be where the boom operator fits. If that ends up happening the boom operator may not use it at all, forcing them to hold their head up for prolonged periods in a critical phase of flight.”

Richardson’s solution involved 3-D printing new chin rests and a bracket to fit into where the original chin rest is positioned, attached to an articulating arm so that it is customizable to suit the size of the boom operator.

In addition to making steps to improve conditions on the airframe, the innovations office designed and created a lighting mount for use during air drops for the C-17 Globemaster III. The permanent lighting setup is inoperable and would require an approximate 1.4 million dollars to be repaired. As a temporary solution, tactical lights are placed in patterns using the lighting mounts and T-posts, allowing aircrew to visually identify the location of the drop zone. The mounts were made by using computer assisted design sketches to create a mold that would fit the dimensions of the tactical lights, followed by 3-D printing.

“After seeing the price point, I wanted to meet somewhere in the middle and have a semi-permanent setup without breaking the bank,” said Tech. Sgt. Alexander Green, 97th Operation Support Squadron joint airdrop inspector flight chief. “Working with the innovations office to get these mounts printed allows us to set up and disassemble each time we go out for night drops.”

Spark Cell is open to Airmen to encourage creative solutions and improvements across the 97th Air Mobility Wing.

“As we dive into 2024, Altus Air Force Base is revving up its engines for an incredible innovation campaign,” said Col. Jeff Marshall, 97th AMW commander. “We’re geared up to tackle challenges head-on across the wing, and you are a crucial part of this journey!”