2021 Air Mobility Command Phoenix Spark Tank


Anyone who has been to the Airlift/Tanker Association Convention in recent years knows that the annual Air Mobility Command (AMC) Phoenix Spark Tank is a major event. Each year, entries flood in for the highly competitive, command-wide innovation challenge for a chance to pitch creative ideas to a panel of judges. These ideas cover a variety of resourceful projects that save time and resources or prevent injuries. The winner and runner-up receive the opportunity to move on to the next level and compete in the Air Force-wide competition to be held in early 2022.

This year’s competition was held in Orlando, FL, on October 30, 2021. The winning entry was the Spotty Bar, invented by Mr. William Spotkaef and MSgt Joseph Lathwood from the 735th Air Mobility Squadron, 515th Air Mobility Operations Wing, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, HI.

What was the winning pitch? Spotkaef and Lathwood submitted a design modifying the deck extension on a Tunner 60K Loader to increase safety and efficiency for aerial port Airmen. In addition, this adjustment costs only $50 each.

The knowledgeable and experienced Port Dawgs identified an issue that occurs when extending the 300-pound deck extension of a Tunner 60K Loader during the loading and off-loading of cargo. They decided to do something about it because the equipment is used daily by those in the aerial port community. Currently, it takes two people to extend the deck fully, and during the process, numerous pinch points have caused injuries to Airmen’s hands. One particular mishap cost $147,000 in expenses and 47 lost workdays. Of course, expenses and lost workday numbers cannot reflect how the incident ultimately changed the Airman’s life. Sadly, these mishaps are entirely preventable.

Adding the Spotty Bar to the extension deck alleviates hands-on contact around the tricky moving parts. This simple innovation saves Port Dawgs’ fingers, is easy to leverage, is efficient and effective, and does not affect operations. Additionally, the bar is easier to use and saves time when extending the deck. Another bonus of this modification is that, at around $50 to make each bar, it is inexpensive to manufacture. It is estimated that the logical innovation would only cost approximately $16,000 to be fitted on all 318 Tunner 60K Loaders in AMC’s inventory.

The 2021 Phoenix Spark Tank runner-up was from the 92d Maintenance Squadron, Fairchild Air Force Base, WA, with the 360-degree KC-135 Fuel Systems Virtual Tour, which aims to increase safety and efficiency for the Airmen who maintain the aircraft. The innovation was submitted by TSgt David Pfleger and will also compete in the Air Force-wide competition.

The 360-degree KC-135 Fuel Systems Virtual Tour is an excellent solution for training and maintenance primarily because the fuel system, housed in the wing of the KC-135, is narrow, difficult to maneuver around, and even when empty, contains hazardous chemicals and fumes. This tool, enabled by a 3D Vista program, allows for a clear visual of the confined fuel tank and all the parts it contains without having to suit up in specialized gear (such as respiratory equipment) to climb inside. The program allows the creator to use hot spots in the images that trigger a question or quiz to pop up on the screen for training.

Because the fuel tanks are compact, Pfleger created the virtual tour for Airmen to use on a daily basis, allowing for quicker repair times, decreased exposure to hazardous chemicals, and increased the level of expertise the Airmen deliver while maintaining the aircraft. The virtual tour helps Airmen become proficient in their duties and enables a quick refresher to visualize which tools they may need during a maintenance scenario. The virtual tour also helps supervisors show Airmen what tools are needed. The training aid helps Airmen visualize what to expect and what obstacles to overcome before climbing into the confined space in the narrow wing. According to Pfleger, the virtual tour could be used for any confined space training.

Congratulations to the Spotty Bar and KC-135 Fuel Systems Virtual Tour innovators, and best of luck at the Air Force-wide Phoenix Spark Tank competition!