Ground-breaking Air Force Prize Marks Year of Impressive Accomplishments

03/07/2016

The Air Force Research Laboratory is aggressively responding to a call from the Secretary of the Air Force to “bend the cost curve,” a sweeping initiative to find innovative ways to make every dollar count while maintaining US air superiority. AFRL, the Air Force leader in the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies, responded with the launch of the first Air Force Prize, a $2 million award for the successful development of a small, lightweight, fuel-efficient turbine engine that meets strenuous requirements outlined, and judged, by AFRL experts in the field.

The prize concept is new to the Air Force, and the designation of AFRL to lead the effort has resulted in a multifaceted approach to engaging other government agencies, private industry, academia, and other potential participants. A comprehensive set of rules for the turbine was established through an exhaustive vetting process; requirements for participation were agreed upon; and a Review Committee was enlisted to ensure fair and equitable definition and application of the Prize fundamentals. The goal of getting the word out was addressed on several fronts, including a comprehensive Web site; AFRL-hosted Discovery Days in Los Angeles, California and Dayton, Ohio; an increased presence on social media (Facebook and Twitter); and speaking engagements to groups with relevant interests.

The Air Force Prize team has traveled the country, giving briefings on the Prize to, for example, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems (AUVSI), the prestigious EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis., the AIAA Propulsion & Energy conference, Ohio’s UAS Consortium, and the AUVSI Propulsion workshop.

Media coverage has been thorough, with stories running in outlets ranging from daily newspapers to specialty publications such as Aviation Week and Aerospace America. In addition, bloggers have picked up the story, helping spread the word of the Air Force Prize and its novel approach to widening the net of innovation in support of the mission.

To date, eight entrants – four teams and four individuals – have met the Prize entry requirements and registered to compete for the $2 million. Each entrant has presented a unique design of a 100-horsepower turboshaft engine, and each is proceeding toward the objective of being the first to bring their prototype to the AFRL testing facility for the grueling evaluation process as set out in the official rules. Being the first to test does not by itself assure victory: Once on the test stand, the design must successfully perform to stringent specifications covering fuel usage, weight, vigor, etc.

The Air Force Prize team has briefed Air Force leadership on the progress of the initiative, which has been substantial in the 12 months since its inception. In addition to establishing and publicizing Prize requirements, AFRL’s Turbine Engine Division has expedited a test facility that will soon stand ready to receive the first competitor. For information on rules, teams, engine specifications, etc., please visit www.airforceprize.com.