Yokota Air Base team wins Air Force’s Spark Tank innovation campaign

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Eric Flores
  • Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs

The 347th Airlift Wing innovation team at Yokota Air Base has won the Department of the Air Force's capstone innovation campaign, Spark Tank, on March 8, 2023, during the Air and Space Forces Association Warfare Symposium in Aurora, Colorado.

The winning idea, which combined ground-penetrating radar with augmented reality, aims to solve a critical problem faced by civil engineer units: the accidental striking of underground pipes during excavation.

The team was led by Lt. Col. Mark Wagner, Master Sgt. Sarah Hubert, and Tech. Sgt. Raymond Zgoda. Their journey began in June 2022, when the Spark Cell attended a trade show highlighting new technologies. “We met this company that was marrying two technologies: the ground-penetrating radar and augmented reality. We had never seen that before,” said Wagner, who also emphasized the importance of exposing Airmen to a variety of emerging technologies, advocating for unbounded innovation across all career fields.

Hubert, who serves as the superintendent for religious affairs, brought a unique outside perspective to the project. During her visits to CE units, she observed the recurring issue of inadvertently hitting underground pipes and recognized how the new technology she had learned about could address the problem.

Hubert collaborated with Zgoda, 374th Civil Engineer Squadron Pavements and Equipment section chief, to expand the idea. “It started smaller in scope. But as we met, I learned more about Tech. Sgt. Zgoda’s troubles and what the CE community goes through, the idea just kind of blossomed,” Hubert said.

Out of 235 ideas submitted to the Guardians and Airmen innovation network, the top 15 were selected for evaluation and voting. Six finalists presented their ideas, with Wagner, Hubert, and Zgoda’s project taking the top prize.

Zgoda noted the often-overlooked nature of problems within the Air Force. “A lot of times, innovation is approached by asking 'What are your problems? We'll fix them.' But sometimes I don't even know what my problems are. This problem we have with pipes was a way of life. It's just something we learned to live with.”

The team’s success underscores the potential of cross-functional collaboration and the importance of integrating new technologies to solve longstanding issues within the Air Force.