Airman opens door for innovation

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Janiqua P. Robinson
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs

Innovative Airmen allow the Air Force to bring the future faster, and one master sergeant is trying to revamp the way rocket propellant is cleaned off the flightline.

Master Sgt. Terri Adams, 23d Civil Engineer Squadron emergency management section chief, won the Air Combat Command’s level of the Air Force Spark Tank competition.

The competition calls for Airmen to pitch their innovative ideas to senior leaders through the Airmen Powered by Innovation portal.

Her submission was designed to simplify the way hydrazine spills are cleaned up at Air Force bases that house F-16 Fighting Falcon or Minuteman III missiles worldwide, saving bases upwards of $10,000 for every 6.8 gallons of hydrazine.

“As an emergency responder myself, I know that no one likes going into a scene with extremely hazardous chemicals,” said Adams. “You are trusting that a thin layer of plastic, some gloves and a mask will keep you safe.  If there is a better way to accomplish the task, then why not change?”

While Adams was stationed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah in 2011, New Mexico Highlands University sent a letter to the base commander asking for a site visit to determine how the Air Force uses hydrazine and how they could help develop products for the Air Force using their new compound that neutralizes hydrazine on contact.

“At the time I was the operations NCO in charge, so the working group fell to me and that’s how I got introduced to the product and the idea,” said Adams. “(Scientists) visited and afterwards developed products specifically designed for Air Force use based off what they learned from their site visit.”

“Since then, I have worked with the scientists and now the company CEO to introduce it into the Air Force inventory. We have tried multiple avenues to get it as an approved process with little success until now … Hopefully,” Adams added while crossing her fingers.


The product created was ZeenKleen, a user-friendly, environmentally safe and less expensive solution that could be used to cover the spill to minimize carcinogen off-gassing which reduces the risks to pilots and personnel.


First responders would apply ZeenKleen pads and if clean-up crews determine more of the solution is needed based on the ZeenKleen calculator, they’d apply more liquid to the spill. The solution neutralizes the spill making it harmless to the environment and personnel and only takes two to four hours to clean up.

This eliminates the need for a HazMat team’s response and the cost of a contracted company for final clean-up. While ZeenKleen would save the Air Force thousands of dollars, in chemical cost and man hours, its ability to protect the lives of personnel is priceless.

“Because of the very hazardous nature of hydrazine itself, the Air Force needs to modernize and give the responders a safer way to do business,” added Adams. “No one's life should be at risk when there is a better option available.”


An Emergency Power Unit (EPU) within an aircraft holds 6.8 gallons of 70 percent hydrazine which is a rocket propellant and a known carcinogen to humans. If a malfunction were to occur causing the accidental release of Hydrazine, current protocols call for the complete evacuation of the area, a full Hazardous Material Team response, dilution of the spill which may cause hazardous runoff and a final clean-up by a contracted company. Completion of the current protocols tie up the aircraft, hangar space, and response personnel for up to 48 hours.


The company CEO Mr. Robert Blaskovic, has been working with Adams since 2013.


“When the competition was announced, she contacted me to ask my level of interest and whether we were on board with her submitting this improvement to the Air Force,” said Blaskovic. “We believed she was a sure winner! ZeenKleen has been extensively tested by independent research facilities and proven to be the best method for making hydrazine harmless.”