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Spark Cell: Columbus AFB opens up creative space for innovators

Capt. Phillip Huebner, 37th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot, speaks during the Spark Cell grand opening Oct. 19, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. The innovation team is requiring all individuals interested in 3D printing to get signed off by a Spark Cell member first to help protect the equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

Capt. Phillip Huebner, 37th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot, speaks during the Spark Cell grand opening Oct. 19, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. The innovation team is requiring all individuals interested in 3D printing to get signed off by a Spark Cell member first to help protect the equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

Maj. Ryan Brewer, 14th Flying Training Wing director of innovation, helps Col. Derek Stuart, 14th Operations Group commander, use a virtual reality headset Oct. 19, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Virtual reality headsets, 3D printers, tablets and laptops fill the Spark Cell for Team BLAZE to use while they create and explore their ideas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

Maj. Ryan Brewer, 14th Flying Training Wing director of innovation, helps Col. Derek Stuart, 14th Operations Group commander, use a virtual reality headset Oct. 19, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Virtual reality headsets, 3D printers, tablets and laptops fill the Spark Cell for Team BLAZE to use while they create and explore their ideas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- The 14th Flying Training Wing’s senior leadership and innovation team opened the Spark Cell’s Innovation Lab Oct. 19 on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.

The room is open 24 hours a day on the second floor of building 926 for individuals to utilize equipment and work on projects. Spouses, civilians, active-duty personnel and anyone else with an idea to solve a problem is welcome to use the Spark Cell.


“This is your Spark Cell,” said Col. Samantha Weeks, 14th FTW commander. “This is for all of Team BLAZE to put up problems and collaboratively come up with solutions. … The chief of staff of the Air Force told us to think big, start small and scale fast and that’s what the Spark Cell is here to help us do.”

Maj. Ryan Brewer, 14th FTW director of innovation, was the lead on the creation of Spark Cell and said this is not a place for personal projects for the sake of it, but rather a place for personal and professional development to help the Air Force and the 14th FTW get better. If learning how to program computer applications helps someone create a solution to a problem, that’d be an example of how to use the space effectively and personally develop.

“The first rule is to strip your rank when you walk in,” Brewer said. “We are trying to strip the barriers to solutions and success. We want an airman to be able to walk up to a lieutenant colonel and say they have an idea that will change the world.”

The Spark Cell has numerous tablets, laptops, TVs, microphones and whiteboards with programs ranging from photo editing software to computer programing applications to allow anyone with any skill set to set the framework for their innovative ideas.

In the future, the innovation team plans on letting people check out equipment overnight if needed. The Spark Cell is meant to give opportunities to connect with other innovators whenever and however possible.

“We came up with the idea of the ‘Check Six’ podcast,” said Capt. Phillip Huebner, 37th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot. “The style is more of a (tactics techniques and procedures) debrief compared to reading the procedures out of a book. Hopefully it will keep students engaged, teach them about things they might not know about, provide context for things when they step in the door, and allow them to know things farther down the line.”

The Check Six podcast is made in the Spark Cell itself with equipment available to all of Team BLAZE, showing there are no limits to one’s creativity.

The innovation team said the vision of the podcast is to cover numerous topics from the ground up, to provide hours of information to students, and others who are interested, while they are out driving, working out or relaxing.

At the end of the day, the innovation team on Columbus AFB says the purpose of the Spark Cell is to cultivate ideas and connect with other innovators so Columbus AFB can create solutions for the betterment of the Air Force.