Air Force Prize Innovation Contest Entices Entrants with $2 Million

We’re all familiar with innovation contests in the private sector. At Skild, we help organizations of all kinds coordinate them.

But now the military is seeking to take advantage of the concept of bringing many sharp minds and independent perspectives to bear on a problem in order to find the best solution. Responding to a directive from the Secretary of the Air Force to “bend the cost curve” and utilize every budget dollar to its fullest, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has launched the first Air Force Prize.

Plane Engine

The $2 million award will go to the inventor who successfully develops a small, lightweight, fuel-efficient turbine engine. This is, of course, no walk in the park. The engine must meet strenuous requirements as judged by AFRL experts.

In coordinating the Air Force’s first innovation contest, AFRL is using a multifaceted approach that involves working with other government agencies, private companies, academic institutions, and other participants. The Air Force Prize has been publicized in a number of ways including:

  • A comprehensive website
  • “Discovery Days” in Los Angeles, and Dayton, Ohio
  • Frequent posts on Facebook and Twitter
  • Speaking engagement to interested groups

By all accounts, the effort has been very successful, with extensive media coverage, articles published in everything from daily newspapers to specialty publications, and engagement with bloggers. People seem to be fascinated by this new approach to generating more innovation insights.

The Latest on the Air Force Prize

So far, eight entrants (four individuals and four teams) have met the Prize entry requirements and registered to compete for the $2 million. The entrants have presented their design of a 100-horsepower turboshaft engine and each is progressing toward producing a working prototype that will be evaluated at the AFRL testing facility. The engines must meet stringent specifications for fuel usage, weight, etc. The first individual or group to produce an engine that meets all the Prize criteria will be declared the winner.

The Cost of Innovation

While $2 million seems like an extremely large prize, it’s likely a drop in the bucket compared to what could be spent internally by the Air Force in trying to develop the desired engine. Here at Skild, our hats are off to the Air Force for using an innovation contest to move its technology forward. We know from experience with users of our competition platform how effective that can be.