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Air Force seeks a few good NM innovators

A covey of Air Force CV-22 Ospreys take off from a Kirtland Air Force Base for a training mission in this file photo. One of the big problems the Air Force is asking for local tech help in solving with its “Enterprize Challenge” is better protecting this rescue aircraft against sand and dust.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Air Force personnel appealed directly to a standing-room-only crowd of local businesspeople and innovators this week to come up with creative solutions to an array of technical problems at Kirtland Air Force Base.

The officers presented a half dozen issues they need help resolving at the kick off event for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s new “Enterprize Challenge,” which encourages local entrepreneurs to design viable, innovative solutions in a cash-prize competition that could lead to new contracts for goods and services.

The launch event attracted a packed audience to the Innovate ABQ research and development zone downtown, where the AFRL’s Technology Engagement Office maintains a small operations center to interact with the public. It’s the latest twist in AFRL efforts to directly connect Kirtland-based entities with local innovators who can provide creative, homegrown solutions to problems, said Technology Engagement Office Director Matt Fetrow.

“We’re changing how we do business to tap into the private sector’s innovative potential,” Fetrow told the crowd. “We need your innovation, expertise and vision to meet some of our needs with fast, nimble and direct solutions.”

The problems range from the technical to the mundane, said Gabe Mounce, AFRL New Mexico’s economic development lead.

“We hoping that each issue ends up with a solution and a contract,” he said.

Five officers pitched their needs at the event including requests for:

• New software systems and tools to manage student flight training programs, and to create 3D modeling of internal aircraft assemblies for training, maintenance and repair

• A tool-tracking system to rapidly locate equipment lost inside aircraft

• Improvements for applying fuel tank sealant and management of check valves

• Controlling pigeon flocks inside aircraft hangers

• Protecting CV22 tilt-rotor aircraft against sand and dust

The officers described their problems in detail, such as rapid deterioration of CV22 engines and components when thick fogs of sand, volcanic ash and dust get kicked up when operating in the New Mexico dessert, which provides Middle East-like terrain ideal for training.

“It’s taking a toll on our aircraft,” said Sr. Master Sergeant Jacob N. Chavez. “…It‘s very hard to clean. It crusts up inches thick in some places and there’s areas where it’s worn right through the aircraft.”

The pigeon flocks, meanwhile, are creating a “poop problem,” said Capt. Jessica L. Cocca.

“The pigeons house in the hangers and they leave droppings all over the floors and on aircraft,” Cocca said. “There’s parts with thick piles of droppings. Our airmen spend up to 90 hours every month cleaning up.”

Following the presentations, entrepreneurs lined up for individual conversations with the officers.

Challenge participants will have eight weeks to develop their proposals to resolve any of the problems presented by the officers, which they will present in a “demo day” Sept. 25 where the AFRL will award three prizes of $15,000, $10,000 and $5,000.



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