Science and Technology News

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

AFRL Commander's Challenge 2013 brings out the best at Arnold

by Philip Lorenz III
Arnold Engineering Development Complex Public Affairs

2/22/2013 - ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- When the message about the Air Force Research Laboratory 2013 Commander's Challenge went out to Arnold Engineering Development Complex's junior workforce, Artious Walker and 2nd Lt. Chance Johnson sent in their applications without hesitation.

Walker, a project manager and electrical engineer with the propulsion side of AEDC's Test Systems Acquisition Branch, had applied for the AFRL Commander's Challenge last year. Encouragement from AEDC's senior leadership and learning more about the 2012 challenge from colleague Rob Merrill were pivotal to Walker's decision to apply again for the six-month temporary duty assignment in Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

For this year's Commander's Challenge, the teams will tackle the daunting problem of demonstrating an alternative means of precision navigation that does not use the Global Positioning System or similar satellites.

"A lot of times you find that younger people have so many outside-of-the-box types of ideas -- they're fresh out of school and they don't know what the 'norm' is," Walker said. "They're not going to say, 'We've been doing this a certain way for the last 20 to 30 years.'"

AEDC Commander Col. Raymond Toth agrees with Walker about the need to seek more innovative solutions to real world problems from a broader spectrum of younger professionals in the Air Force.

"Let's get some folks involved from a cross section of the Air Force, in the various fields, specialty codes, various engineering talent," the colonel said. "Some may not even be hardcore engineers. We need to look for innovative solutions to these really hard problems, because once you get in a stovepipe, and you start thinking in a particular way, many times it's hard to get to break out of that method of thinking.

"The AFRL Commander's Challenge tries to bring together diverse teams who don't think alike, to come to that unique solution where somebody says, 'Let's figure out how make it -- a different approach -- work.'"

Walker, who is excited about the prospect of participating in this year's Commander's Challenge, said, "This program allows that younger crowd, those with new, fresh ideas, to approach and solve some of the frontline problems that our warfighters are dealing with on a day-to-day basis."

Johnson, a project manager with the aerodynamic (wind tunnels) side of AEDC's Test Systems Acquisition Branch, said his experience with another program helped spark his interest in applying for the Commander's Challenge.

"I worked on a similar team at the [Air Force] Academy with Capstone," said Johnson, who is a developmental engineer. "It was obviously a different mission, but they were gathering three different project teams to create a solution for a warfighter need. I really enjoyed the experience that I had on that project team."

Toth said an innovate approach to solving real-world problems, like threats to the GPS network, is essential to finding workable solutions to challenges facing the warfighter and the public.

"The solution doesn't need to be an electrical engineering one," he said. "AFRL is not saying that the solution has to be another thing that looks like GPS. All they're saying is, 'Give me a chance to navigate -- to provide precise navigation and timing.' Who says it has be based on electrical engineering principles?"

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