Air Traffic Controller receives Grit Award

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Brig. Gen. E. John Teichert, 412th Test Wing Commanding General, poses for a photo with Senior Airman Oscar Cantu, an Air Traffic Controller with 412th Operations Support Squadron. Cantu was given the Grit Award for overcoming challenges in pushing his innovative idea. (Air Force photograph by Carlie Mensen)

A Team Edwards member was recently given the Grit Award in recognition of the challenges he faced to make his innovative idea into a reality.

Senior Airman Oscar Cantu, an Air Traffic Controller with the 412th Operations Support Squadron, innovation idea was a head-mounted display for air traffic controllers. The technology helps air traffic controllers a tool through the use of augmented reality.

“My innovation idea is an Air Traffic Controller HMD (head mounted display), it is a small visor-sized helmet that would allow controllers to see aircraft in blind spots or through inclement weather allowing for better situational awareness,” Cantu said.

Cantu envisions the technology to have other applications with boots on the ground. This technology could also be used by combat controllers providing essential technology to the war fighter. Allowing them to mark out landing zones and see their inbound aircraft more clearly.

“This technology could also be used by combat controllers providing essential technology to the war fighter allowing them to mark out landing zones and see their inbound aircraft more clearly,” he said.

Cantu faced many challenges in getting his idea the type of visibility and traction it needed. Some of the challenges fell outside of the local purview.

Senior Airman Oscar Cantu, an Air Traffic Controller with 412th Operations Support Squadron, was given the Grit Award for overcoming challenges in pushing his innovative idea. (Air Force photograph by Carlie Mensen)

“The first barrier I faced was that my original idea of having more of a HUD (heads-up display) on the tower windows just wasn’t feasible with certain limitations such as the view angle,” he said. “The second set back is the technology that was to be used to track the aircraft (ADS-B), is moving away from United States Air Force technology. Other setbacks were when the idea had gotten to the AFMC level of the Air Force spark tank but no further, leaving me with no other avenues of spreading the idea at the time. Then we had the EAFB spark tank challenge and my idea didn’t get selected at all, again leaving me with no avenues to peruse my idea successfully.”

Even though Cantu faced these roadblocks, he persevered. His perseverance paid off, not just for him, but possibly for the whole Department of Defense.

“The end result was that I finally got some traction with the DOD rapid innovation fund (RIF), the process is still ongoing but is in the final stages of selection for funding,” he said. “Twelve different companies submitted white paper solutions for making the HMD a reality, asking for funding anywhere between $500,000 to $3 million. Three companies are now at the final stages to decide which will ultimately be chosen for a contract with the DOD.”

Due to his hard work in getting an innovative idea pushed through, the 412th Test Wing Commander, Brig. Gen. E. John Teichert, personally presented Cantu with the Grit Award. And Cantu’s experience can be a learning lesson for those who might also have innovative ideas.

“The Grit Award was presented to me because of the challenges I have faced so far with my innovation idea that I am very passionate about,” Cantu said. “However despite these difficulties and setbacks, I pushed through to make my dream become a reality no matter what it took.”