Airmen asked to hack Air Force computers

The national security environment is affected by the rapid development of new technologies involving “big data” analytics, and the protection and proper utilization of our data is vital to advancing test capabilities at the Air Force Test Center.

In order to merge data, tools, and relevant problems, an innovative team of Airmen across AFTC joined forces in the first AFTC Data “Hackathon” Nov. 1-5, 2021.

Airmen and civilians participate in the Air Force Test Center’s first-ever data hackathon Nov. 3 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Teams from each AFTC base faced off to solve Air Force Test Pilot School data problems in the week-long competition. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Various participants, also referred to as “hackers” from the 412th Test Wing, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., the 96th Test Wing, Eglin AFB, Fla., and the Arnold Engineering Development Complex, Arnold AFB, Tenn., combined efforts to create an event that could potentially solve U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School sponsored data problems.

“The idea for a Data Hackathon started with taking a concept already created, and presenting a possibility to use data software to accelerate our abilities,” said Capt. Troy Soileau, 96th Cyber Test Group chief data officer.

Another purpose of the event was to build a technical community and train personnel in cloud, coding, and advanced analytics.

“The Data Hackathon projects looked at ways not to increase analysis capability for a single data set, but how to analyze across datasets, share data between various stakeholders, and how to automate certain activities for increased speed,” said Col. Keith Roessig, AFTC vice commander and Data Hackathon judge. “We’re hoping to scale the ideas generated during this first event and plan more events in the future.”

Though the hackers participated in different locations, they used a virtual system, VAULT, to collaborate their efforts.

“This event is being conducted in/facilitated by the VAULT cloud data science platform which is from the Air Force Chief Data Office, creating the opportunity to work virtually,” said Soileau. “We’re leveraging such talented individuals who have never worked together to encourage cross-organizational skillsets to help manage their talents even more.”

Roughly 40 participants, military, civilian, and contractors merged their different abilities to come up with definitive analysis tools that will provide decision-quality data, faster.

“Our focus this week is to get after definitive analysis tools that will save time and not need to reinvent the wheel for TPS students. We’re working on something that can be used for each class instead of being recreated every time,” said Soileau.

AFTC is expanding the use of digital engineering from the structural analyses or computational fluid dynamics predictions that Test has been doing for years, into a more collaborative approach between the test units, program offices, and contractors. This requires appropriate data collection, storage, transport, and sharing at the right security levels.

By the last day, integrating the diverse careers complemented the event’s objectives to find common goals.

“[The participants] all did a great job of recognizing each other’s strengths and using that knowledge to assign tasks. For example, the hypersonics test representatives provided insight into their knowledge of data formats and use of Python tools to the rest of the team,” said Brandon Stiles, AEDC Test Support Division chief engineer. “They were key in helping to examine test data formats from other test mission areas and demonstrating the ability to quickly convert data formats that could be used with Python automated analysis tools.”

Participants talk through a problem during the Air Force Test Center’s first-ever data hackathon Nov. 3 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Teams from each AFTC base faced off to solve Air Force Test Pilot School data problems in the week-long competition. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

During the last day, judges composed of AFTC senior leadership rated each teams’ solutions based off creativity, mission impact, completeness and overall score.

“It was truly amazing to see what ideas the teams came up with in a short time especially as they all incorporated aspects of data, tools and personnel required to make such endeavors successful,” said Roessig.

The Hackathon is slated to occur quarterly, with the next projected for the first quarter of 2022.

“Our next goal is to not only have more participants, but to work with squadrons and hopefully get a bigger mission impact,” said Soileau. “The vision is to make this more frequent for unit operations tempos with a solution at the end, and to demystify the technologies that underpin data engineering, data science, and advanced analytics and bring them home to the squadron-level.”

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

“We’d like to teach people that we don’t need permission to problem-solve, you have the best solutions having hands-on,” said Britney Reed, 412th Test Wing process manager.

For additional information about the Data Hackathon, please contact Capt. Troy Soileau at 661-524-4672.

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