Edwards AFB Airman selected as AFMC’s Spark Tank finalist

  • Published
  • By Grady Fontana
  • 412th Test Wing

Air Force Materiel Command recently named its 2022 MAJCOM Spark Tank finalists during the command Senior Leader Conference, Oct. 8, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and one Airman from the 412th Test Wing at Edwards AFB is among the two finalists.

Major Allen Black, assistant director of operations, 411th Flight Test Squadron, 412th Operations Group, 412th TW, will be one of two who will represent AFMC in the Department of the Air Force Spark Tank competition, and have a chance to present his idea at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium, in Orlando, Florida, March 2-4, 2022.

Spark Tank brings forth the innovative knowledge and powers of Airmen and Guardians, reflecting leadership’s continued efforts to empower and provide them with a platform to pitch innovative solutions to operational problems.

According to an AFMC news release, there were 97 submissions to the AFMC-level competition. From these submissions, five semi-finalists were selected to present their ideas to AFMC senior leadership, with the top two ideas progressing to the Air Force-level competition.

The F-22 Open Systems Architecture (OSA) Rack idea was submitted by Black, and he seeks to leverage and partner with the F-35 Fighter Optimization eXperiment (FoX) Tablet effort to enable interoperability between airframes while accelerating software delivery at lower costs. 

“This project takes what the F-35 started—connecting a tablet to aircraft data with a universal government interface that allows test and tactical applications to be created—and applies it to the F-22 in a way that allows portability between the two fifth-generation aircraft,” said Black. “The follow-on goal being to continue that progress across additional aircraft like the F-16.”

The project was enabled by the OSA rack that was part of a recent F-22 test program that just exited developmental test. The OSA rack supports the open mission systems computing and connection for the commercial tablet to aircraft data.

According to Black, this project has large benefits for both the government as well as prime contractors. The government benefits by opening up a way to mature software faster, pool resources and field capability across platforms, decrease acquisitions risk by flying before buying, and providing an avenue to advanced capabilities like artificial intelligence, manned-unmanned teaming and cyber defense.

It also benefits prime contractors by enabling a sandboxed development environment where their new capabilities can be demonstrated easier and matured much faster, easier, and cheaper. They would also be able to field their software on multiple platforms.

“The F-22 Project FoX is working to execute its first test in the next several months. This initial test will demonstrate portable applications across fifth-generation fighters, third-party applications on the F-22 Raptor, and create a sandboxed development environment on the F-22,” added Black. “The importance of the sandboxed development is that instead of tying developmental code in with the operational code, we will be able to segment it off such that we can iterate rapidly on the developmental software without impacting the airworthiness of the aircraft. In this way we should be able to accelerate our software development.”

Spark Tank, a product of AFWERX, is an annual event where Airmen are selected to pitch innovative ideas to top Air Force leadership and a panel of industry experts to receive support and resources for implementation.

The selection process looks at the need for specific capabilities as well as concerns of safety, policy, Air Force-wide implementation, technical feasibility and scalability.

A semi-finals board co-chaired by the vice chief of staff of the Air Force and vice chief of space operations for U.S. Space Force will select the Department of the Air Force finalists.

“Innovation funding is an invaluable resource to get programs like this started. Innovation funds helped establish the program on the F-35 and are helping the F-22 get over the initial barrier of establishing the data pathway,” said Black. “Once the pathway is established and demonstrated then modernization funding can be put through this cheaper and faster pipeline where appropriate.”