786 FSS: Going green, making green with Spark Tank idea

The 786th Force Support Squadron recently purchased six environmentally friendly treadmills for use in the North- and Southside fitness centers.

These treadmills require no energy to function, and as an individual runs on the treadmill, the machine actually transmits energy back into the power grid.

The utility of these six treadmills has made Master Sgt. Joseph McTaggart, noncommissioned officer in charge of Ramstein Air Base Southside Fitness Center, a candidate of the 2020 U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s Spark Tank competition.

“We just wanted to solve some energy problems [on Ramstein], especially at the Northside Fitness Center,” said McTaggart.

Master Sgt. Joseph McTaggart, non-commissioned officer in charge of Ramstein Air Base Southside Fitness Center, walks on one of the new environmentally friendly treadmills at the Southside Fitness Center on Ramstein Air Base, Oct. 4. The treadmill functions entirely on the individual’s own energy. As the individual moves, the treadmill transfers the individual’s energy into usable energy, which is put back into the power grid.

The Northside Fitness Center was constructed in 1952 and the gym has two large open areas. The main one, which is now used to hold the majority of gym equipment, was once a basketball court. Apart from lighting, the basketball court required no energy costs. Today, much of the gym equipment found on the retired court requires an immense amount of power. In 1952, the fitness demands of today couldn’t be foreseen, and it’s evident the Northside Fitness Center wasn’t designed for this magnitude of energy consumption.

“Think about the amount of money we’re spending on our electric bill,” said McTaggart. “We’re at a point where everyone wants to be more energy efficient. This solution hits both points and it’s really a win-win situation for us. We believe, in our experience, this would benefit the U.S. Air Force in general — this is a no-brainer. We’re producing electricity.”

McTaggart went on to explain these treadmills provide more utility than saving the U.S. Air Force money. “The main thing big leadership is excited about is saving money,” said McTaggart. “Let’s talk about the young guys, though. Let’s talk about the Airmen and why it’s important for them. This is better than running on a traditional treadmill. The way the treadmill is designed, running on it is easier on your knees and your joints. Additionally, because you’re generating the power for the treadmill, the resistance is also greater than a traditional treadmill so you’re actually burning 30 percent more calories. So, why is this important to Airmen? You have a treadmill that is more effective with injury prevention that also allows Airmen to perform better on their fitness assessments.”

McTaggart isn’t too concerned with the outcome of the Spark Tank competition for his idea so much as he shares his gratitude to be a part of the process.

“Just the idea of even being nominated … the idea of being thought of to bring our name forward is great,” said McTaggart. “We’re just excited to share what we really think can change the future, at least for the fitness side of the U.S. Air Force.”

So, what is Spark Tank and how can intelligent minds with creative solutions for the U.S. Air Force get involved?

Spark Tank is an annual competition where Airmen pitch innovative ideas to top Air Force leadership and a panel of industry experts. The competitors within Spark Tank are comprised of active duty Airmen, Air Force Reserves, Air National Guard and Air Force civilians.

Hosted each year at the Air Force Association’s Warfare Symposium, thousands of attendees watch the innovation pitches to senior leaders. To support Spark Tank, AFWERX launched a crowd-sourcing platform called IdeaScale which allows Airmen to share ideas, critique submissions, and upvote the most promising solutions. The Airmen with the most game changing and upvoted ideas then compete at the culminating event, Spark Tank.

The competition is designed to encourage intrapreneurship, retain innovators, and speed adoption of emerging technologies, especially those developed by Airmen that bring game-changing impact to our force.

“In this age of great power competition, your innovations and ideas will extend our dominance in Air, Space, and Cyberspace,” said Matthew P. Donovan, Acting Secretary of the Air Force. “The competition is on — we look forward to seeing what you got!”

It is important to remember it is possible for anyone to create a Spark Tank-worthy idea. Once the idea is established, industry partners are ready to partner with Airmen to create their solutions. Lastly, remember innovation is not being afraid of failure. Innovation is a culture of improvement.

For more information on the Spark Tank, please visit afwerx.af.mil/spark-tank.html