TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Business, civic and Travis Air Force Base leaders met for the inaugural Phoenix Spark advisory board here June 22.
Started in April 2017, Phoenix Spark is a base-level innovation program designed to organically connect and work with industry, academia, and the Department of Defense in order to deliver tomorrow’s tools to the warfighter today.
“Because the Air Force is a large organization, it makes innovation a challenge,” said Col. Christopher Maddox, 60th Operations Group commander, in his opening remarks to the board. “Airmen are the most connected to our mission and we want to continue to empower them to solve problems.”
The advisory board is an executive-level forum which provides advocacy and mentorship as Phoenix Spark works to create a pathway for Airmen to quickly acquire tools needed for increased mission success.
“We want to build a framework to ensure we continue to be successful,” said Maddox. ”We’re looking for ways to unleash our Airmen…and reduce the bureaucracy that stands in their way.”
Phoenix Spark is a grassroots effort initially called the Travis Innovation Office, which began in early 2016. Airmen would meet in their free time to work on projects to enhance their work spaces. After many iterations to create a viable model at the wing level, Air Mobility Command signed off on a charter creating the first Phoenix Spark office in the command.
“Through Phoenix Spark, we are connecting the operational experts at Travis with the local industry and academic partners who can realize innovative solutions for the Warfighter.” said Maj. Tony Perez, a founding member of the Phoenix Spark program, in his introduction to the board. “Phoenix Spark creates a collaborative environment where Airmen are empowered to challenge the status quo and introduce new tools into their organizations.”
The program leverages Travis AFB’s geographic proximity to start-up companies in Silicon Valley and also academic institutions.
“In the first months we made more than 57 contacts,” said Perez. “When we speak with them, we focus on three types of projects: widgets for the warfighter, academic studies and knowledge exchanges.”
Widgets are hardware or software solutions created and prototyped to solve an operational problem set for Airmen across base; and perhaps eventually the entire Air Force. For example, the Phoenix Spark office is currently testing a noise-canceling microphone for aircrew on the C-5M Super Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III that will enhance communication in the high decibel operational environment.
“We’ll soon be using it in the C-5s with instructors and evaluators,” said Perez. “This all happened through the Phoenix Spark program.”
Still in its infancy, the program will rely on the advisory board for advice on creating the Travis AFB Phoenix Spark charter. It plans to meet again with Airmen in July.