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Scott Innovation Lab partners with area grad students for creative solutions

C-21 pilot Capt. Chandler Thorpe, 458th Airlift Squadron, and Washington University graduate student Kyle Gero go through a pre-flight checklist. Gero is a graduate student, who is collaborating with Scott’s Elevate innovation team and the squadron on a C-21 cockpit trainer project. The C-21 aircraft inventory went through an avionics upgrade in 2019, however, the training simulator uses the older cockpit configuration.

C-21 pilot Capt. Chandler Thorpe, 458th Airlift Squadron, and Washington University graduate student Kyle Gero go through a pre-flight checklist. Gero is a graduate student, who is collaborating with Scott’s Elevate innovation team and the squadron on a C-21 cockpit trainer project. The C-21 aircraft inventory went through an avionics upgrade in 2019, however, the training simulator uses the older cockpit configuration.

Master Sgt. Joseph Dufault, superintendent, Aircrew Flight Equipment, 375th Operations Support Squadron shows a video on his phone of the August 12, 2020, flooding of the AFE office to graduate students (left to right) Kyle Collier, Astha Bhatnagar, and Cam Loyet. The students are helping Scott’s Elevate innovation team to find potential solutions to prevent future flooding. (Photo by Christine Spargur)

Master Sgt. Joseph Dufault, superintendent, Aircrew Flight Equipment, 375th Operations Support Squadron shows a video on his phone of the August 12, 2020, flooding of the AFE office to graduate students (left to right) Kyle Collier, Astha Bhatnagar, and Cam Loyet. The students are helping Scott’s Elevate innovation team to find potential solutions to prevent future flooding. (Photo by Christine Spargur)

Washington University graduate students (left to right) Kyle Collier, Astha Bhatnagar, and Cam Loyet talk with 375th Civil Engineer Squadron’s Kenneth Cavanaugh (middle) and squadron commander Lt. Col. Paul Fredin about water drainage inside Hangar 3.  On Aug. 12, 2020, over five inches of rain fell within two hours on Scott Air Force Base causing damage to several buildings including the hangar. The students discussed several potential solutions to prevent future flooding inside the hangar. (Photo by Christine Spargur)

Washington University graduate students (left to right) Kyle Collier, Astha Bhatnagar, and Cam Loyet talk with 375th Civil Engineer Squadron’s Kenneth Cavanaugh (middle) and squadron commander Lt. Col. Paul Fredin about water drainage inside Hangar 3. On Aug. 12, 2020, over five inches of rain fell within two hours on Scott Air Force Base causing damage to several buildings including the hangar. The students discussed several potential solutions to prevent future flooding inside the hangar. (Photo by Christine Spargur)

C-21 pilot Capt. Chandler Thorpe, 458th Airlift Squadron, shows Washington University graduate students (left to right) Mehir Walia, Kelsey Giaimo, and Kyle Gero a pre-flight checklist.  As part of the university’s Innovation for Defense Course, the students are working with Scott Air Force Base’s Elevate innovation team and the squadron to identify potential solutions that would resolve the current challenges C-21 pilots face training on a simulator that does not match the current, updated cockpit configuration.  (Photo by Christine Spargur)

C-21 pilot Capt. Chandler Thorpe, 458th Airlift Squadron, shows Washington University graduate students (left to right) Mehir Walia, Kelsey Giaimo, and Kyle Gero a pre-flight checklist. As part of the university’s Innovation for Defense Course, the students are working with Scott Air Force Base’s Elevate innovation team and the squadron to identify potential solutions that would resolve the current challenges C-21 pilots face training on a simulator that does not match the current, updated cockpit configuration. (Photo by Christine Spargur)

Lt. Col. Paul Fredin, commander of the 375th Civil Engineer Squadron, and 375th CES engineer Kenneth Cavanaugh (middle) talk with graduate students Kyle Collier and Cam Loyet (left to right) about water drainage on the flightline.  The students are taking the Innovating for Defense course at Washington University. They are working with Scott’s Elevate innovation team on identifying solutions to prevent future flooding of Hangar 3, which is used to house and maintain C-21 aircraft. (Photo by Christi Spargur)

Lt. Col. Paul Fredin, commander of the 375th Civil Engineer Squadron, and 375th CES engineer Kenneth Cavanaugh (middle) talk with graduate students Kyle Collier and Cam Loyet (left to right) about water drainage on the flightline. The students are taking the Innovating for Defense course at Washington University. They are working with Scott’s Elevate innovation team on identifying solutions to prevent future flooding of Hangar 3, which is used to house and maintain C-21 aircraft. (Photo by Christi Spargur)

Lt. Col. Paul Fredin, commander of the 375th Civil Engineer Squadron, and 375th CES engineer Kenneth Cavanaugh (middle) talk with graduate students Cam Loyet and Kyle Collier (left to right) about water drainage at Hangar 3. The students visited the base on March 2, 2020, as part of their Innovating for Defense class at Washington University. Their class project is to identify potential solutions to prevent future flooding of Hangar 3, which sits in a low-lying area. The students will present their ideas to the Scott’s Elevate innovation team.

Lt. Col. Paul Fredin, commander of the 375th Civil Engineer Squadron, and 375th CES engineer Kenneth Cavanaugh (middle) talk with graduate students Cam Loyet and Kyle Collier (left to right) about water drainage at Hangar 3. The students visited the base on March 2, 2020, as part of their Innovating for Defense class at Washington University. Their class project is to identify potential solutions to prevent future flooding of Hangar 3, which sits in a low-lying area. The students will present their ideas to the Scott’s Elevate innovation team.

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Recently, two groups of graduate students from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., visited Scott Air Force Base to work with the Elevate innovation team, the 375th Civil Engineer Squadron, and the 375th Operations Group to identify potential solutions to two different challenges impacting the flying mission here.

One of the groups is working with C-21 pilots on a cockpit trainer. In 2019, the C-21 aircraft underwent an avionics upgrade with new communications equipment and weather radar. Currently, there is no training platform for pilots that matches the upgraded C-21 cockpit configuration.

Capt. Chandler Thorpe, a C-21 pilot, explained to his group of students, “We go down to Florida for training. Everything is different there. The simulator we use for training is not the same as the C-21 aircraft we are actually flying.”

When graduate student Kelsey Giaimo asked him about the impact of not having an updated training platform that depicts the current C-21 cockpit configuration, Thorpe said, “It’s frustrating to sit in the cockpit simulator and not know where things are. You are used to the switch being in one place in the aircraft. When you are in training, though, the cockpit simulator is the older version and the switches, gauges, and levers are in different places. When you are training, you have to re-adjust from the new cockpit configuration to how it was before the avionics upgrades.”

After talking with Thorpe and sitting in the cockpit, another of the graduate students, Kyle Gero, said he can understand the difficulty of not having a matching trainer with the updated cockpit configuration. “Before our visit to Scott, we were given a problem description and talked with the Elevate team. Seeing this in person crystallizes the challenges these pilots face.”

The second group of students is working to identify potential solutions to prevent flooding in Hangar 3, which sits in a low-lying area on base. On Aug. 12, 2020, more than five inches of rain fell on base over two hours causing flash flooding inside the hangar, the C-21 schoolhouse, and the Aircrew Flight Equipment office.

To address this issue, these graduate students met with the Elevate team along with the 375th Civil Engineer Squadron’s commander, Lt. Col. Paul Fredin, and engineer Kenneth Cavanaugh. They walked around the building to examine existing drainage, toured the schoolhouse, which is currently undergoing re-construction, examined the hangar doors and entry points, and spoke with AFE personnel who were on shift during the August flood.

Student Kyle Collier said, “This is a huge facility and a much bigger problem that will require a more complex solution than I was thinking.”

These two projects make up the Innovating for Defense coursework for these graduate students. Doug Villhard, Washington University’s Academic Director and Professor of Practice of Entrepreneurship at the Olin School of Business, said, “This spring 2021 semester is the first time this class has been offered. It is based on a course that started at Stanford, which has spread around universities across the country. The objective is teach students how to think innovatively to solve problems. The beauty of doing so inside the Department of Defense is that so many of the non-classified challenges the Defense Department faces are also problems private companies have as well.”

Students taking the course are from the university’s business and engineering schools. Students are provided with a DoD sponsor to identify problems for class projects. Then, they interview and meet with DoD personnel to discuss the problem and possible solutions.

The next step for these two groups of students is to continue to define the scope of the problem and to work with their classmates and professors on potential solutions.  The students will then present their ideas to the Elevate innovation team.

The course and the collaboration between Washington University and Scott AFB is a part of the National Security Innovation Network, whose mission is “to build networks of innovators that generate new solutions to national security problems” by connecting the DoD, colleges and universities, and venture communities to each other.

Villhard said, “We were introduced to Scott through Jake Laktas with NSIN. Together, we could think of no better partner than the Air Force base right here in our larger St. Louis community. We’re very proud to have a base located here and we’re even more proud of our new partnership.”

In a Jan. 27 university press release, Laktas, who is the program director and NSIN representative, said, “This course’s model is unique because it can be an equally valuable learning experience for DoD partners as it is for the students. University problems solvers, who are unencumbered by existing thought processes can lend brand new approaches and unique contributions to our nation’s most difficult technology and security challenges.”

Laktas’s comments mirror Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth’s remarks during a virtual “fireside chat” at the Air Force Association’s Aerospace Warfare Symposium on Feb. 26.  Roth said, “We would like to bring people in to provide us, frankly, things that we haven’t thought of…new ways of tackling the same sort of problems.  That’s the key going forward. …Maybe there’s a young engineer or technologist out there who can bring us the ‘ah ha’ moment.”

Elevate’s chief innovation officer Maj. Adam Wallace, who is also a C-21 pilot, said, “As I’m walking around talking about these problems with these students, I’m learning they are bigger in scope than even I realized. These students are asking great questions and have lots of good ideas that we as Airmen haven’t yet considered.”

 

Editor’s note: Article includes information from the Jan. 27, 2021, Washington University press release, WashU Students Are Tackling Problems for the Department of Defense and from the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Feb. 26, 2021 article, Roth outlines priorities for Air, Space Forces during virtual ‘fireside chat’.