WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
The 509th Bomb Wing recently launched the Innovation Showcase, a new program to foster and promote innovation, ingenuity and cutting edge readiness. This program allows Airmen to learn about innovation at the wing level.
“I believe it is important we empower every Airman to be an innovator,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Seth Graham, the 509th Bomb Wing vice commander. “There are over 7000 Total Force Airmen and civilians at Whiteman AFB. If we were to limit good ideas to just those in leadership positions, we would significantly limit our pool of innovators. From a statistical standpoint, that is just not a good bet. Second, we not only have a large number of Airmen at Whiteman but we have quality Airmen.”
Whiteman has many highly educated junior enlisted Airmen with academic degrees, said Graham. Whiteman also has a very diverse population from around the globe, which allows for varying experiences and perspectives when looking for new ideas.
“This offers an opportunity to see the world in a different way and seeing the world differently is the seed of innovation,” said Graham. “Lastly, our Airmen are the ones that are not only closest to the problems we need to solve, but they are also the ones with the technical expertise to understand the issues and conceptualize potential solutions.”
Col. Graham feels it is important to bring the innovation process to life in a real world scenario. To provide such an opportunity, Airmen from different career fields were taken to the flight line on Dec. 11, 2019, to learn about a Whiteman innovation success story.
Airmen assigned to the 131st and the 509th Maintenance Squadrons, hosted a showcase to explain their squadron’s innovation, a shortened B-2 Spirit phase inspection process.
The maintainers took the phase inspection process from 19 days to 14 days, said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Justin Aeckerle, the 131st MXS lead phase inspector. This change was maintenance’s way to increase fleet readiness.
“Big picture is it now allows less aircraft downtime, and an increase in aircraft availability for global nuclear deterrence,” said Aeckerle.
In order to shorten the phase inspection plan, the squadrons collaborated to identify problems, determine root causes and develop countermeasures during a workshop called the Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) event.
“CPI findings aid in the reduction of double work, wasted man hours, better allocated resources and improved productivity,” said Aeckerle.
During the showcase, roughly 40 Airmen split off into groups and rotated through five stations that maintenance had set up. The stations gave a short brief and answered any questions that the Airmen had about each part of the phase inspection process.
One station highlighted the CPI event, while the others discussed the changes made with air and ground equipment, the composite tool kit, forms and the phase stands.
With all these changes and the shortening of the phase inspection, the maintenance groups have achieved a higher standard of quality and safety.
Graham has encouraged showcases like this one to demonstrate innovation throughout Whiteman, since innovation plays such a key role in the United States remaining the world’s preeminent force in air and space.
“I believe one of the issues we face in the Air Force is that we encourage Airmen to be innovators, but we never discuss how to innovate in our very bureaucratic and hierarchical structure,” said Graham. “There are many barriers to successful innovation and failure to understand how to navigate through the system can lead to frustration and possibly disenfranchisement.”
Graham said that by showcasing a successful innovation he hopes to allow Airmen to interact with successful innovators and, in doing so, show them that making big change in the Air Force is possible.
Whiteman AFB has its own innovation program called Whiteman Edge, a local take on the Air Force’s various innovation initiatives. Whiteman Edge is the innovative Airman’s invitation to find ways to save money, time and, potentially, lives. Airmen can submit their ideas when they visit: https://www.whiteman.af.mil/Edge/