Innovative Ideas Shine at First-Ever AMC Phoenix Spark Tank Competition


When TSgt Eric Holton of the 6th Air Mobility Wing competed in the Phoenix Spark Tank competition, he decided to tackle a common problem faced by Aerospace Propulsion technicians.

Along with three other finalists, Holton presented his idea in the fall of 2018 at AMC’s inaugural Phoenix Spark Tank competition. Held at the Airlift/Tanker Association Symposium in Grapevine, Texas, the competition encouraged Airmen of all ranks and careers to create innovative and modern ideas. The competition is part of the Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson’s innovation initiative and fosters the creation of ideas that would save time and money while maintaining readiness.

The four finalists, chosen out of 73 submissions, presented their ideas to top Air Force leaders, including AMC Commander, Gen Maryanne Miller; Air Combat Command Commander, Gen Mike Holmes; and AMC Command Chief, CMSgt Larry Williams. In addition, Vox Space President Mandy Vaughn provided her considerable expertise as a judge in the competition.

“Innovation is the engine of change,” said Miller. “We need to outsmart, outpace, and outmaneuver future threats. Airman innovation will ensure this occurs.”

Holton’s idea, the KC-135 Engine Maintenance Platform Stand, addresses the challenge of Aerospace Propulsion technicians safely reaching the 12 o’clock position of an engine’s fan section. Technicians are restricted from reaching that position due to safety regulations directed in AFMAN 91-203, prohibiting the use of standing on the top two rungs and overreaching from the ladder’s specified safe work area. Holton’s maintenance stand design would allow Airmen to efficiently reach and repair at the 12 o’clock position while ensuring safety compliance.

“Utilizing ladders is incredibly time consuming due to constant repositioning, adjustments, and utilizing the required hand-lines to raise and lower tools to work positions while keeping boots clear of slippery substances when there are often residual fluids in the work areas,” Holton explained. “I have collaborated with engineers to develop schematics for an ergonomic work stand that would rectify this dilemma while streamlining the engine maintenance practices that currently utilize ladders.”

The stands Holton created are OSHA compliant, featuring corrosion and spark resistant material, removable safety rails, installed kick plates, an anti-slip platform, caster wheel locks, and a locking pin mechanism. While the stand is installed, technicians are able to perform maintenance on all areas of the engine in a safe manner.

“These stands will eliminate safety deviations and save countless hours through the elimination of moving and adjusting ladders, expediting scheduled and unscheduled maintenance actions,” said Holton. “This stand will undoubtedly have positive and lasting effects within the entire KC-135 fleet and potentially a variety of fleets.”

The three other finalists of AMC’s Phoenix Spark Tank competition also presented notable ideas that focused on efficiency and safety.

TSgt Shawn Roberge of the 92d Maintenance Group presented a solution to prevent damage to the nose landing gear doors and the fuselage skin that can occur when towing the KC-135. TSgt Alex Aguayo of the 437th Maintenance Squadron created a design that enables Airmen to more efficiently paint C-17 Globemaster III tires by stabilizing the wheels on a bearing. SSgt Travis Alton of the 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron proposed an idea that addressed how cargo is often damaged during airdrops due to an engineering defect within the release assembly of the M-1 cargo parachute.

Alton was chosen as the winner of the Phoenix Spark Tank competition and was sent on to the Air Force’s competition. While there was only one winner, the other three finalists’ promising ideas will be implemented. Holton’s stands are currently in the development stages, with two prototypes due for delivery at the end of November 2019.

The ingenious ideas from all of the finalists showcased the importance of Airmen innovation and how it can promote mission effectiveness.

“The Airmen that set the path before us rose to the challenges of their time, and now it is our turn,” Miller said. “Our National Defense Strategy clearly defines our path. We are in a time of great power competition and we must be ready to compete, deter, and win. Innovation will be key to our success. We have Airmen every day giving it their best, breaking out of the box, taking us forward.”

AMC’s first-ever Phoenix Spark Tank competition submissions demonstrated the successful and innovative ideas of its participants. They not only brought diverse innovations to the table, but also showed how those ideas can and will make a difference in the future. AMC is looking forward to receiving next year’s submissions and showcasing the mission enhancing creativity of AMC Airmen.