A boom operator instructor from the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas won the Air Force’s first Spark Tank innovation prize for creating a new, more ergonomic platform for operators like himself.

Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda received the prize Thursday at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

His idea was chosen out of a pool of six finalists by Air Force senior leaders and industry partners, the Air Force said in a release.

Bachleda and the other five finalists will receive funding or senior leader support to move forward with their ideas, according to the Air Force.

In a video, Bachleda said that the idea for his new platform was sparked when his wing commander came around asking if boom operator instructors were having any problems. In the conversation that followed, it emerged that back and neck issues had become a frequent ailment due to problems with the current boom pod design and cushion.

Bachleda began redesigning the platform with the idea of adding a new chin rest, and went on to completely redesign its cushion. The new platform raises the hips of a boom operator instructor lying prone.

The other Spark Tank ideas included:

  • A more efficient way to collect and sort spent brass casings from fired bullets and remove cartridges that have not yet been fired. The Air Force now sells its spent brass for recycling, but unfired cartridges have to be sorted and removed by hand. The new “Brass to Bucks” system uses a machine to sort the brass. It was developed by 1st Lt. James Eimers of the 90th Munitions Squadron at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming.
  • A mobile pod stand developed by Senior Airman Christopher Caruso of the 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Aviano Air Base in Italy. This stand is intended to make it easier for maintainers to perform maintenance or op checks on pods.
  • An augmented reality training system for maintainers called MOTAR, or Maintenance Operations and Training Augmented Reality, developed by Master Sgt. Thomas Crider at the 164th Airlift Wing at the Memphis Air National Guard Base in Tennessee.
  • An Air Force Connect mobile app, developed by four airmen at Air Force Reserve Command. This app allows an airman to pair a Common Access Card reader with a mobile device, login with the CAC, and start browsing websites secured by the CAC.
  • A program that displays airfield restrictions and limitations, created by civilians at Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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