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Airmen pitch improvement ideas, get funding in 388th FW “Shark Tank”

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah --

Three new improvements will soon be making lives a little easier and impacting the mission here thanks to the Airmen’s research and squadron innovation funds.

After a wing-wide competition was announced, three ideas – an F-35A canopy template, and automated industrial crib and an MRE-style nutrition program – were selected to receive funding, and will be implemented soon.

“The 388th FW leadership really wanted to hear straight from our Airmen,” said 388th Maintenance Squadron Operations Officer, Capt. Kimberly Jackson. “Many times, ideas that fuel innovation are stifled by budget priorities at the squadron or group level and  we don’t hear from Airmen on the line or in the shop. We really wanted to see through their eyes and understand what would improve mission execution, and also make their lives a little easier.”

The F-35A canopy template will cost about $5,000 and will be created by the Ogden Air Logistics Complex, using a 3D printer. The canopy template is simple and “nothing exciting to look at,” but it will allow airmen to accelerate the replacement process by preparing the parts and replacing a new canopy before removing the old one. The template will allow them to start prepping two days sooner.

Not every idea is a brand-new innovation, some solutions already exist, but Airmen just needed the funds. The automated crib is essentially an industrial vending machine that Airmen will use for bench stock and supply “consumables,” anything from nuts and bolts, to rags and eyewear. The system automatically tracks the stock level both for accountability and to reorder new stock when supplies are low, saving time and providing data on what items are most used. The automated crib will cost about $40,000.

And, not every idea has to do with machines. Humans need to be kept healthy too – enter the “Fighter Hydration and Nutritional Support” program. The program will create “flight-worthy” MRE derivative’s for pilots to take on combat missions in deployed environments. During the pitch, pilots said the goal is to produce better performance and “maximize the human weapons system” through protein-dense food, healthy carbohydrates and hydration items, which aren’t readily available in a deployed environment. It will keep them more alert and functioning at a higher level on sorties that can last eight hours or more.

“These initiatives were presented by Staff Sgt. Kevin Browning from 388th Maintenance Squadron, Lt. Garrett Myers from 388th Maintenance Squadron and Maj. Jacob Berry from the 4th Fighter Squadron. All members did a fantastic job conveying the mission need and impact to ultimately provide solutions,” Jackson said.