Best Air University research selected at MGMWERX Pitch Night, earns $1.5M SBIR commitment

Maj. Alexander Criss, a student at the U.S. Air Force’s Air University School of Advanced Air and Space Studies earned first place in academic research for 2019 during the Top Flight Pitch Night hosted by MGMWERX May 21 in Montgomery, Ala.

In addition to the distinction, Criss’ pitch for “Tired of Flying: The Unmitigated Risk of Aircrew Fatigue,” caught the attention of one judge, David Shahady, the Director of the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Program, who in a stunning move teamed with Air University President and judge, Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, to commit funds for a future SBIR Phase II topic to address Criss’ idea.

Shahady offered a $1.5 million commitment for a direct to Phase II SBIR topic expected in the next Department of Defense broad agency announcement for SBIR/STTR. The topic allows an industry partner the opportunity to develop a solution for the challenges identified in Criss’ student research.

Criss’ work focused on how the Mobility Air Forces are unwittingly accepting and executing routine and low-priority missions with high levels of unidentified fatigue risks because of an inadequate and outdated risk management system.

Through his proposed solution, BETTY – Better Effectiveness Through Tracking Yourself, U.S. Air Force air crews would be armed with a monitoring device serviced by the right tools to identify and combat fatigue. Their leaders, in turn, would have the tools necessary to make accurate and informed real-time risk-based decisions.

According to Criss, this is an “opportunity for increased safety and improved health of the force through proactive management of fatigue risks.”

The judges’ panel of four military and industry experts; including, Cotton, Shahady, Mr. Paavo Hanninen from Alabama Small Business Development Center Network at the University of Alabama, and Ms. Likia Hawkins the President and Chief Executive Officer Steel Point Solutions, LLC, concurred on the winner and were encourage by the broader commercial application for this idea.

As the winner, Criss will return next year to judge Top Flight Pitch Night with travel and accommodation provided by MGMWERX.

Criss competed against four other students during the inaugural Air University Top Flight Pitch Night. The finalists were selected by MGMWERX and Air University staff. Other finalists were:

  • Lt. Col. Yaakov Bindell for “Transforming Disaster Relief with Small Unmanned Aircraft.” Bindell described how small unmanned aircraft or drones can offer affordable and effective solutions for quickly restoring communications and transportation.
  • Maj. Curtis Shorr for “Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and Geomagnetic Disturbance (GMD) Events: Mitigations to Protect USAF Capacity.” Shorr spoke to EMP and GMD national preparedness as well as solutions within the Air Force’s control to maintain its warfighting capacity.
  • Capt. Jonathan Beabout for “Chatbot Application to Air Education and Training Command.” Beabout argued that for the Air Force to continue to educate its members effectively, AETC should leverage emerging technologies and employ chatbots in as many applicable courses as possible.
  • Capt. Casey Hawkins for “Environmentally-Friendly Green Solutions for Metal Surface Preparation.” Hawkins highlighted that a radical change is needed within the aluminum industry to protect both the operators and the environment from toxic chemical exposure.

MGMWERX was created under a Partnership Intermediary Agreement to align with the education initiatives of Air University. MGMWERX augments ongoing Air University programs, through events like Pitch Night, to enhance production of high-quality, innovative research and ideas that span issues of importance to the Air Force. This includes, but is not limited to, doctrine, strategies, capability needs, operational concepts, training, education, and science and technology.