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Third iteration of AFTC Data Hackathon an innovation success

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Robert Cloys
  • Air Force Test Center Public Affairs

Air Force Test Center hosted its third Data Hackathon virtually and in person at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., August 8-12.

The AFTC Data Hackathon is a way to match data-talented or data-curious members of the AFTC community with real-world problems that desperately need their help. These events provide zero-cost solutions in the areas of Data Science and Data Engineering.

Participants, aka hackers, get experience working on real problems by implementing the data tools at our disposal via local resources.

Working virtually in real-time, participants across AFTC, the 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., the 96th Test Wing at Eglin AFB, Fla., and Arnold Engineering Development Complex, Tenn., combined efforts to tackle complex sourced problems with open-source and Air Force provided tools.

The Hackathon, organized by Capt. Troy Soileau, 96th Cyberspace Test Group Chief Data Officer, and Nathan “CAP’N” Cook, 96th Operations Group Chief Data Officer, is now on its third iteration and has already attracted attention from Air Force level offices.

“We've come a long way since November of last year, in terms of our event maturity, our technology base, and also in terms of the sophistication and scale of the solutions that we're coming up with during each of these events,” said Soileau. “We use this event as an opportunity to simultaneously identify and develop organic capability (in terms of both people and technology), solve real data problems, and drive digital transformation within Test.”

During the August event, ten problems were presented and each successfully assigned a team of problem solvers from not only AFTC participants but members of Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operations Command as well.

“This event is like an iceberg, there's so much work that goes into it behind the scenes and we get so much value from the process of putting it on,” said Soileau. “Helping the problem owners think about their mission problem as a big data problem, coaching new members of the team in the skills required to lead teams of data experts, and educating the workforce on what tools are out there.”

Though the participants worked collectively from different locations, they utilized the VAULT cloud data science platform from the Air Force Chief Data Office, to collaborate their efforts.

“This platform – VAULT - brings a capability to your normal NIPR machine that most people would only dream of,” said Soileau. “During the event, we were able to, within one day, provision a Databricks cluster (industry-leading data science computing platform) on VAULT which allowed us to achieve massive compute scale. Other units can do the same.” 

Scott Bolen, 461st Flight Test Squadron RADAR test engineer, hopes to implement a similar forum where he works and focus on programming with Python to make tools and utilities. Specifically specifying periods where team members can set aside time and focus solely on a singular problem and solution.

“Having the ability to do that is very valuable and I think that we could make leaps and bounds,” said Bolen.

Similarly, 2nd Lt. Noah Diamon, 418th Flight Test Squadron flight test engineer, participating in his first Hackathon event, took away a much broader end game. 

“Coming into this I’m realizing some cool capabilities that we have now,” he said. “Even outside of the Hackathon I can get together with people and start pushing our own software for the squadron to start alleviating some of the pressure we have.”

At the end of the Hackathon week, the participating teams were judged and awarded 1st through 3rd place recognition by an AFTC leadership panel.  Additional recognition was awarded for overall Impact, creativity, and completeness.

Hackathon Winners (Descriptions Provided by Teams)

1st- Team Orange (The Multi Domain Test Force Environment Truth Characterization)

The Multi Domain Test Force worked to utilize test events known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast along with current Time-Space-Position Information to validate mission data. Team Orange was tasked to gather all data for a given time period to compare with current TSPI data for a given Test Event. The team then created a Dashboard available to those with Vault access that not only gathers ADS-B data but also gives a visual representation of flight paths for a given area.

2nd- Team Gold (28 TES Commander Dash)

With this prototype, we are revolutionizing the way Commander’s retrieve, view, and act on unit data to make decisions. We’re taking manual data scraping and static excel dashboards to the grave and bringing in existing, free, enterprise business systems to enable real-time, integrated, interactive dashboards that serve as a common operating picture for all commander unit data needs. We demonstrated several easy-to-use SharePoint tools for Commander project/schedule tracking workflows. Most importantly, we explored the art of the possible with consolidated commander unit dashboards in Envision, which already has all the data needed to drive such a tool, and garnered interest from several parties to commission the development of such a dashboard on Envision for use AF-wide.

3rd- Team Blue (Skyborg)

The team used the Skyborg datasets from flight test in Orange Flag 21-3 to determine the datalink dropouts between the nodes of the Skyborg's Autonomy system. They used a regularly reported position message as a heartbeat to find when the datalink was down. The team then used Plotly to create visualizations to more easily see what the aircraft was doing during the datalink issues.

Additional Recognition

Overall impact- Team Brown (AEDC Test Cell Condition)

Overall creativity- Team Turquoise (412 CEG Match Enterprise Environmental, Safety, and Occupational Health Management Information System Data with Air Quality Regs)

Overall Completeness- Team Gold (28 TES Commander Dash)

Additional teams worked on projects to include 96th Test Wing Target Utilization, Test Pilot School Flying Qualities, ET-CTF Skyborg Data Analysis, Version Control Software Guides, Hacker Questionnaire Analysis, and Air Commando Development Apps.


In the future, the Data Hackathon hopes to indicate that successful runs thus far show Center and MAJCOM leadership the value of increasing VAULT capabilities to a higher classification level.  

“Special Access Programs data is where the juice is really worth the squeeze,” said Soileau. “If we can get this level of success just on NIPR, what can we achieve there?”

More information about the AFTC Data Hackathon can be found in DAF365 teams by searching “AFTC Data Hackathon” or by using the join code b4x02wc.

The representatives of the Data Hackathon encourage more people from any career, regardless of skillset, to participate to widen the improvement of data analytics.