AEDC Spark Tank awards funding to multiple proposals

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

The ideas have been submitted, the pitches presented and the selections made.

Now begins the implementation process for those across Arnold Engineering Development Complex recently awarded funding for their innovative ideas through the AEDC Spark Tank.

After poring over the submitted suggestions on how to improve AEDC processes or utilize new technologies and hearing directly from those offering their proposals, a panel made up of AEDC government and contractor personnel at Arnold Air Force Base, the headquarters of AEDC, determined the Spark Tank awardees in mid-February.

The AEDC Spark Tank allowed members of the AEDC workforce to propose suggestions for how to improve AEDC processes, products and test capabilities. The program was open to military, DOD civilians and contractors across all AEDC units.

In all, 18 PowerPoint Spark Tank proposals were submitted by the deadline. Of those, 14 were presented by their creators to a panel tasked with deciding funding recipients. Although available funding was not applicable to the remaining four submissions, those developing these proposals were referred to other areas and programs for possible funding and implementation assistance.

Eight of the 14 projects presented were awarded Spark Tank funding through several diverse sources.

Presentations occurred over a two-day period. Then, the Spark Tank panel gathered to assess which proposals would benefit AEDC the most, taking into account the measure of innovation stemming from each suggestion. The panel also gauged whether a proposal offered a new way of doing things at AEDC, if the idea attempted to solve a new problem or offered a new method to solve an existing one, or if it described a developing technology that could be put to use within the AEDC.

“After we did this, we looked at funding sources because we only had a very small pot of money, but the panel agreed these are all great ideas,” said Adam Moon, Air Force project manager for the Innovation Center and Innovation Grant project. “We wanted to find a way to fund as many ideas as we could.”

Five of the eight awardees received funding via the AEDC Innovation Grant. Two are funded through the AEDC Innovation Center, as those proposals pertain to the new center. The remaining awardee received funds from a long-range planning project.

“If somebody put in an idea, even though we had our limited pot of money, it was still our responsibility to try to go out and shake the trees,” said Dr. Justin Garrard, Reliability Engineering manager and project manager for the Innovation Grant project with the AEDC Test Operations and Sustainment contractor.

The money awarded through the Spark Tank must be used by September, meaning there is a deadline for those awarded funding to complete their proposals.

“We’re expecting them to be finished by early September so they can do a brief-out,” Garrard said. “With that said, the way we view this is that some of these are maybe a Phase I kind of effort.”

This means if an awardee needs to keep working on their suggestion beyond the expiration of the Spark Tank funding due to the project continuing to exhibit added value, the project could potentially receive additional funding through Spark Tank or another avenue.

Awardees are expected to provide members of the AEDC Spark Tank panel with monthly updates on the progress of their funded projects, project costs and projected implementation schedule.

Examples of projects receiving funding through the AEDC Spark Tank include a conditioned-based maintenance fault simulator, which was funded through Innovation Center money and will offer a capability to train asset managers to identify equipment issues before they arise in the mission area. Also funded through the center were data acquisition systems that will allow engineers using the Innovation Center to tinker with projects to pull data from these efforts. 

Moon said another highlight of the Spark Tank program was the awarding of funding to a proposal pitched by personnel with the 586th Flight Test Squadron. The 586FLTS is part of the 704th Test Group, headquartered at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. The 704TG is a unit of AEDC.

“We’re very Arnold Air Force Base-centric for a lot of stuff, so to receive ideas from the 704th TG and help support their innovation, that was pretty cool,” Moon said.

The potential also exists for projects submitted for the AEDC Spark Tank to move up the Air Force chain and receive funding or implementation help from other organizations. Moon added the Spark Tank has provided AEDC with concepts to present whenever those up the Air Force chain put out requests for innovative ideas.

“When there are calls for innovation from the Test Center [Air Force Test Center] or the Command [Air Force Materiel Command], we now have a bucket of ideas that, even if it’s executing right now under AEDC, we can send it up the line,” Moon said. “We didn’t limit the scope of any of the ideas for that reason. We wanted any and all ideas to come in, regardless of an estimated dollar value.”

Garrard said having funding to conduct the Spark Tank program is a huge benefit to AEDC, as not only might it lead to the implementation of process improvements and other innovations, but it gives personnel at all levels the opportunity to leave their mark on AEDC and positively impact the AEDC mission.

“If you think about angel investors in Silicon Valley, if they invest in 10 projects, eight of them may fail, but if one of them is Google, then you call the whole thing a success,” he said. “It’s kind of the same thought process here.”

Moon added if a funding recipient’s idea doesn’t work out or if they are unable to finish by September despite giving it their best effort, this should not be looked upon as failure.

“All of this is really just seed money to let people go and do the work that’s outside their normal scope,” he said. “Most people can’t just go over to a TOS SME [Test Operations and Sustainment subject matter expert] and say, ‘I need you to help me develop this control methodology.’ That SME requires funding. So the Spark Tank project lets them go get the support that they need and develop these side projects. Even if they don’t work out, there were lessons learned behind that. An engineer got to grow, gain an understanding of how the different areas work together. They got to understand limitations on certain things.”

The following are the projects funded by the Innovation Grant through the Spark Tank:

  • Will Garner – Investigation on Predictive Model Control Algorithms
  • Greg Sterling – Scenario Optimizer for AEDC Resources (SOAR)
  • Joe Braker – High-Temperature Calibration Techniques
  • David Plemmons – High-Temperature Measurement Techniques
  • Geraldo Sanchez – Radio Transmitter Upgrades


The following are the projects funded by the Innovation Center or long-range planning project funds to help give the Innovation Center some additional capabilities:

  • Parke Nation – Condition-Based Maintenance Training Device
  • Steve Arnold – Data Acquisition and Simulation Cabinet (DAQSIM)
  • Capt. Brian Gatzke, Steve Arnold – Flow Visualization for Preemptive Acoustic Abatement in Turbine Test Cells