Academy research has a 'bright future'

Col. Robert Kraus

Col. Robert Kraus

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Congratulations to the Class of 2014 on completing their four-year journey at the Air Force Academy. From wildfires to government shutdowns, things may have slowed a little bit, but it's hard to keep a good team down.

Researchers and cadets surpassed major milestones this year - filing new patents, creating major Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) outreach events and developing new research projects that will assist the Air Force in continuing to dominate air, space and cyberspace for decades.

Cadets won local, regional and national awards at myriad conferences and Defense Department contests, besting the other service academies in several competitions, including the Boeing Advance Concept Energy Supply competition and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Capstone Innovation Challenge.

The Academy's cyber team won or ranked very high in several national and international competitions, garnering national press coverage and showing the nation is prepared to fight and win in cyberspace.

Several patent-pending technologies have been developed by faculty and cadets. Lt. Col. A.J. Rolling's class took their patent-pending engine design to DARPA, winning the inaugural Capstone Innovation Challenge against West Point and Annapolis. Capt. Jeff Newcamp's Systems Engineering Class developed innovative technologies to prevent birdstrikes on aircraft. And, Dr. Kevin Gibbons, advising a class of Mechanical Engineers, developed a novel method to fight corrosion. Each of these projects will benefit the Air Force and the entire nation as they have the potential to save billions and make flying safer for aviators of all stripes.

These inventions set USAFA down a path of technology transfer, one rarely trodden by Academy officials before, but a path that sets a promising future for research at USAFA.

Research had practical applications, too, as cadets aided the local community through marketing analysis of travelers through the Colorado Springs Airport, modeling flash floods to alert first responders earlier, and developing a software program to aid the Colorado Springs Police Department identify potential repeat offenders in the city.

And professors and research staff never forgot the main reason for their jobs: to educate cadets. They assisted yet another crop of cadets in gaining their lieutenants' bars, setting them on a path to successful national service.

Cadets continued the USAFA spirit of service this year through the Academy's long-standing STEM outreach programs, like Girls in the Middle, the Chemistry Magic Show and Physics is Phun, reaching thousands of elementary, middle and high school students throughout the Pikes Peak region. Aeronautics instructor Col. Jim Dutton organized a downlink with astronauts at the International Space Station, which reached thousands of students at schools across the country, providing them with an once-in-a-lifetime experience to talk to astronauts in space.

All the activity points to a new direction for research at USAFA - a path we started down this year. The federal government mandates technology transfer - moving innovative products from the laboratory to the commercial sector. The Office of Research, with approval from the dean of faculty and the superintendent, plans to make technology transfer the cornerstone of its responsibilities at USAFA.

That means harnessing the essence of the Academy in a way that's new to most faculty and staff, some of whom don't have an entrepreneurial bent. The Academy's research programs will create the opportunity to find dedicated sources of funding, free from the uncertainties of future federal budgets.

The ingredients for success already exist at the Academy: it just requires harnessing the fine minds of cadets and staff, building on the USAFA brand and finding ways to license patented technology, to create spin-off companies from USAFA research and to aid start-ups in developing research further.

As I prepare to depart the Academy for the Air Force Office of Scientific Research in Washington, I want to express my gratitude to everyone at USAFA who had a role in educating, training, and inspiring the Class of 2014. From what we've seen them accomplish this year -- inventing, competing, and winning -- our future is very bright.