NAVAL AIR WARFARE CENTER AIRCRAFT DIVISION, Patuxent River, Md. – At its heart, innovation is about solving problems and learning lessons along the way.
“Certainly, nothing goes as planned; that's part of what makes the Innovation Challenge great,” said Nicholas Sofocleous, an aerospace engineer from the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Air Vehicle Engineering department. “We are given the opportunity to manage and execute our own project to tackle a pressing fleet issue through innovative ideas and solutions.”
Sofocleous was a member of Team MAGNETO (Magnetorheological Fluid Active Damping System for Landing Gear), one of the three teams from NAWCAD that were selected to participate in the Innovation Challenge 3.
Now in its fourth year, the Challenge asks junior scientists and engineers to form four to six person teams, identify one of the challenges the fleet faces, and take their solution from proposal to working prototype in just six months.
“We’ve seen a lot of great work come out of these Challenges,” said Rear Adm. Shane Gahagan, Commander, NAWCAD, and assistant commander for Research and Engineering, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). “It’s a way for NAWCAD to engage the newest members of our workforce and let them find new ways to solve problems. We can’t afford anymore to spend 15 to 20 years in an acquisition cycle. We need to reduce cycle times and get products to the fleet faster.”
In addition to Team MAGNETO, this year’s other teams were Team CISAR and Team INCANTATION.
Team MAGNETO developed an active damping system inside an aircraft’s landing gear to make landings smoother. Team members Nick Sofocleous, Mark Glucksman-Glaser, Mursleen Mumtaz, Jan Kasprzak, Joe Hodkiewicz, and Pakky Ngaha are from NAWCAD Patuxent River.
Team INCANTATION – Infusion of Carbon NanoTubes in Additive Manufacturing Technologies in Operations of the Navy – developed a new carbon nanotube powder and successfully 3-D printed test specimens with it – a first for NAVAIR. Carbon nanotubes are considered to be one of the strongest and lightest materials known and can be combined with other materials into composites. Team members Ronald Poveda, Patrick Thompson, Michael Rossini and Igor Bezsonov are from NAWCAD Lakehurst, New Jersey.
Team CISAR – Counter-UAS Inexpensive, Small, Advanced Radar – developed a radar system to detect small, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and alert pilots to their presence. Team members Ahmed Abdelmohssen, Habtamu Betelle, Charles Richardson, Stevie-Mari Starks and Joe Stephenson are from NAWCAD St. Inigoes, Maryland.
"One of our core functions as a warfare center is the development of new technologies for the fleet," said Leslie Taylor, NAWCAD executive director, and NAVAIR deputy assistant commander for Test and Evaluation. "The Innovation Challenge has resulted in several prototypes that can be developed for near term tactical application and a few that have potential strategic implications that have moved to the next level for deeper research."
Teams from past years have examined technologies to potentially allow future gearboxes to run without oil lubrication; developed a technology that can block certain aircraft frequencies for hearing protection; invented a method for harnessing and storing sound energy from jet engines; and demonstrated the feasibility of capturing ambient noise reflections to produce an image of objects underwater.
As of this third Challenge, six invention disclosures have been submitted and five additional ones are in process; two patents have been filed; two technology licenses are in process; and two Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) have been put in place. A CRADA is an agreement between a federal laboratory and a non-federal organization to perform cooperative research and develop a product for potential federal and commercial use.
While the main focus of the Challenge is technical, teams took pride not only in a successful outcome, but also in the lessons learned from experimenting, networking and collaborating across departments. Perhaps the most notable accomplishment, according to several participants, was in exercising ownership and control over their projects.
"The Innovation Challenge meant freedom for me,” said Stevie-Mari Starks, a computer engineer in the Ship and Integrated Warfare department in the Rapid Capability Engineering and Integration branch. “We were free to be able to act as our own program and to make our own rules as a team. In the Challenge, I was able to use skills that I had acquired in grad school and put them to work and to take new skills that I learned back to my department and help people." Starks served as the software engineer for Team CISAR and developed a graphic user interface to capture the team’s radar data.
Teams presented their findings to NAVAIR and NAWCAD leadership in late September, and plans are underway to showcase their working prototypes to the workforce early next year.