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Thunderbolt Spark Cell ignites Airmen innovation

A Microsoft HoloLens 2 displays an augmented reality simulation during a demonstration, Oct. 12, 2020, at Arizona State University in Phoenix. The smartglasses project information in 3D allowing individuals to interact with their surroundings and each other. Luke AFB Airmen and an ASU student are bringing an innovative idea to strengthen Air Force culture and capabilities with their submission of the “Next-Gen Debrief” project, which uses augmented reality during the debrief process, in the Air Force Material Command Spark Tank competition. ( U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Butler)

A Microsoft HoloLens 2 displays an augmented reality simulation during a demonstration, Oct. 12, 2020, at Arizona State University in Phoenix. The smartglasses project information in 3D allowing individuals to interact with their surroundings and each other. Luke AFB Airmen and an ASU student are bringing an innovative idea to strengthen Air Force culture and capabilities with their submission of the “Next-Gen Debrief” project, which uses augmented reality during the debrief process, in the Air Force Material Command Spark Tank competition. ( U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caleb Butler)

First Lt. Adam Treece, 56th Operations Support Squadron intelligence readiness chief, and Capt. David Coyle, 56th OSS weapons officer, test a prototype threat emitter system Jan. 17, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Treece, Coyle and Wylie Standage Beier, Arizona State University electrical engineering PhD student, made the project ‘Making Waves’, to create a low-cost, mobile threat emitter system to be used in training for fifth-generation aircraft. The team is one of six finalists in the annual Spark Tank competition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Leala Marquez)

First Lt. Adam Treece, 56th Operations Support Squadron intelligence readiness chief, and Capt. David Coyle, 56th OSS weapons officer, test a prototype threat emitter system Jan. 17, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Treece, Coyle and Wylie Standage Beier, Arizona State University electrical engineering PhD student, made the project ‘Making Waves’, to create a low-cost, mobile threat emitter system to be used in training for fifth-generation aircraft. The team is one of six finalists in the annual Spark Tank competition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Leala Marquez)

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --

In August 2020, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., released his strategic approach entitled “Accelerate Change or Lose,” and followed this statement up in December 2020 with action orders that represent his call to Airmen to move forward aggressively in the push toward change “allowing more space for innovation.”

Luke Air Force Base answered that call to action with the creation of the Thunderbolt Spark Cell, officially announced January 5, 2021.

“It is our job as senior leaders to make it as easy as possible for those of you who want to make a positive difference for our Air Force and our fellow Airmen,” said Brig. Gen. Gregory Kreuder, 56th Fighter Wing commander. “To that end, I have directed the establishment of a 56th FW innovation unit, the Thunderbolt Spark Cell.

“The Thunderbolt Spark Cell will bring opportunities and resources to Thunderbolt Nation and will foster your ideas on how to accomplish our mission in innovative ways.”

Capt. Christopher Dylewski, 56th FW Commander’s Action Group officer and Thunderbolt Spark Cell director, is leading the charge by establishing the cell at Luke AFB.  

“The Spark Cell is a one-stop shop for Airmen,” said Dylewski. “We exist to make the lives and service of Thunderbolt Nation better and will do that by collecting ideas, getting after them in innovative ways and bringing outside resources into Luke to work on solutions.”

A direct approach and allowing space for innovation means less hurdles and more freedom for ideas.

“The Spark Cell will report directly to Gen. Kreuder, but will have support from AFWERX,” said Dylewski. “AFWERX is an Air Force entity that expands technology, talent, and transition partnerships with outside organizations in order to bring the service more rapid and affordable capability.”

Luke AFB is no stranger to innovative ideas after winning the 2020 Air Force Spark Tank competition, an annual event hosted at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida, where Airmen pitch innovative ideas to a panel of top Air Force leadership and industry experts. The 56th FW is also a finalist in the 2021 competition with the Next-Gen Debrief innovation, a concept that utilizes augmented reality headsets to project a three-dimensional scene into a debrief room, allowing pilots to view scenarios from any angle.  

“Luke already has people with great ideas to make Luke work better,” said Dylewski. “That’s obvious when a Luke team makes the finals of an Air Force-wide competition for the second year in a row. We can also tell by the fact that a few days after announcing the Thunderbolt Spark Cell [via email to the base], I have a huge list of ideas from folks about ways to make Luke better.”

According to Dylewski, the cell is already working on changing the way low-observable coating is applied to aircraft to help create a more consistent curing process, bringing more 3D printing resources to the base, addressing sporadic power cart reliability, suface tablets to facilitate smooth remote work, and more.

“The Thunderbolt Spark Cell is going to be able to take those ideas and make them a reality,” said Dylewski. “Innovation that drives us to live and work better here at Thunderbolt Nation is so important because what we do is so important. What makes the Thunderbolt Spark Cell and innovation here at Luke so critical is that it will help us all build the world’s greatest fighter pilots and combat-ready Airmen. Without both of those groups, the Air Force simply cannot accomplish its mission.”

For more information about joining the Spark Cell Board or submitting ideas, contact Capt. Christopher Dylewski at christopher.dylewski.1@us.af.mil or access the Ideascale website at https://usaf.ideascalegov.com/a/ideas/recent/campaigns/210.