WASHINGTON — A new automated way to keep track of aircraft maintenance tools took the top prize in Air Education and Training Command’s iChallenge competition Tuesday.

Donald Mitchell, an aircraft fuel systems flight chief at the 97th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, won first place and the accompanying $225,000 for his automated tool control and accountability idea, AETC said in a release.

This tool tracker would “drastically increase aircraft production and maintenance response capabilities,” AETC said in the release. It would also reduce overall operating costs, and making maintenance operations more effective, the command added.

Two other entrants won the runner-up prizes of $125,000 each.

An idea for a virtual reality lab for teaching foreign students English was the first runner-up. This entry, from English as a second language instructors Guy Stieglitz and Greg Foreman of the Defense Language Institute English Language Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, sought to use 3D models and take advantage of the resources and expertise that already exist in the Air Force to improve how international students from allied and partner nations learn English.

The second runner-up idea, from Master Sgt. Douglas Gissendanner of the 59th Medical Operations Squadron at Lackland’s 59th Medical Wing, seeks to improve the feedback process for medical personnel. The VAPOR — or Validated Assessment Program for Operation Readiness — concept would streamline training efforts, lower costs and improve the readiness of medics, AETC said. Gissendaner is the wing’s operational medicine senior enlisted adviser.

The prize recipients will next try to further develop their ideas, track down more resources to make them a reality, and find other innovators they can collaborate with and learn from. The prize money is intended to be used as seed money to flesh out their concepts.

“The 2022 iChallenge winners embody our need to modernize our learning opportunities and techniques to train airmen and bridge our force development gaps and challenges,” Lt. Col. CJ Hale, chief of AETC’s rapid deployment office, said in the release. “Long-term U.S. military supremacy depends on our ability to rapidly innovate and be at the cutting edge of science and operational thought.”

This was the second annual iChallenge competition, and it took place during the ForceCon conference.

AETC hopes the contest will encourage airmen to come up with new, innovative ideas to train personnel, uncover those ideas and get them the resources needed to get those ideas into airmen’s hands.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for Military.com, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. Before that, he covered U.S. Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for Air Force Times.

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