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AMC Airman wins first-ever Spark Tank innovation cup

Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda (right), 22nd Air Refueling Wing aircraft boom operator, from McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, briefs his idea to the Spark Tank panel during the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium, Orlando, Fla., Feb. 22, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne A. Clark)

Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda (right), 22nd Air Refueling Wing aircraft boom operator, from McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, briefs his idea to the Spark Tank panel during the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium, Orlando, Fla., Feb. 22, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne A. Clark)

All Spark Tank finalists pose for a photo with members of the panel during the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium, Orlando, Fla., Feb. 22, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne A. Clark)

All Spark Tank finalists pose for a photo with members of the panel during the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium, Orlando, Fla., Feb. 22, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne A. Clark)

ORLANDO, Fla. — An Airman from McConnell Air Force Base took home the top prize in the Air Force’s first-ever Spark Tank innovation competition, Feb. 22, 2018, at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium here.

Master Sgt. Bartek Bachleda, 22nd Air Refueling Wing aircraft boom instructor, won the inaugural Air Force Spark Tank Competition Cup for his KC-135 aircraft boom instructor platform proposal to reengineer the boom operator instructor platform position for the entire KC-135 fleet. He asked the Air Force for $1.5 million to implement his innovation.  

“It’s refreshing to see leadership encouraging Airmen to innovate,” Bachleda said. “It’s really cool!”

His winning idea is designed to provide a more stable and ergonomically correct platform for all KC-135 instructor boom operators. The proposed innovation aims to both reduce back and neck injuries and save the Air Force $132 million each year in this critical aircrew specialty. 

“We were and are destroying Airmen,” he said. “We were getting neck and back injuries, and it’s been happening since the 1950s.” 

A panel comprised of Air Force senior leaders including the secretary of the Air Force, chief of staff and industry partners, judged amongst six innovative finalists.

After Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson heard Sergeant Bachleda’s idea though, she gave firm direction to the Air Force’s acquisitions lead.

“Before we leave tonight, I want you to talk to this guy, figure out his [System Programs Office] and get this to the Airmen!” she said. 

AMC, and its Phoenix Spark innovation program, embraced the call for innovation after Wilson kicked off the Spark Tank competition last September. The competition was co-hosted between the Airmen Powered by Innovation Program and the newly-announced AFwerX Innovation Ecosystem, and was conducted in a multi-step approach starting with participants submitting their ideas through their major commands. AMC was the only command with two innovations selected for presentation to Air Force and industry leadership in Orlando.

“Innovation is central to our Air Force‘s ability to apply airpower,” said Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II, AMC commander. “At a time when we are challenged with resource constraints, with no rest from our adversaries, we need to find more effective ways to continue as the world‘s most dominant Air Force.”

Although only six ideas made the cut to be presented in Orlando, Bachleda encouraged his fellow Airmen to know if they have ideas on how to improve the Air Force they need to speak up and keep bringing them forward.

“I didn’t come here to win,” said Bachleda. “I wanted senior leadership to see this problem in front of them and explain to them that we can save the Air Force all this money.”

(Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs, contributed to this article)