Astra celebrated the innovative ideas and creativity of our whole force at the Astra Awards on 21 September 2023.
Astra is empowering people across the RAF to harness their ingenuity to deliver meaningful change through grassroots innovation. Hundreds gathered in Sunderland Hall at the RAF Museum for an evening of sharing ideas and celebrating innovative achievements.
Astra has had many successes and the Awards recognised some of the most inspirational people, ingenious ideas, and the incredible impact they’ve had over the past year.
Astra Ecosystem Award, sponsored by Fujitsu
Winner: RAF Fylingdales
RAF Fylingdales is one of the smallest operational units that has an active Astra ecosystem that is fully inclusive, with people at all levels empowered to enact change. The success of the ecosystem on such a small, remote unit is testament to the creativity and ambition of their Astra Ambassadors and the leadership of Warrant Officer Old. Many of their projects are ground-breaking and have the potential to revolutionise RAF training and administrative procedures.
RAF Fylingdales were unable to collect their award as they were busy celebrating their 60th anniversary. It was collected by colleagues from UK Space Command who will arrange for it to be formally presented in due course.
Astra Innovation Award, sponsored by PA Consulting
Winner: Sergeant Baxendale
Baxendale’s novel approach to real-time information sharing within the supply chain through cloud infrastructure has tackled long-standing challenges in cargo logistics, including his home unit of RAF Brize Norton. His innovative AirLoader application automates critical and challenging calculations in weight and balance management for aircraft, increasing efficiency, accuracy, and safety while saving valuable resources. Owing to his outstanding ingenuity and dedication, his work has the potential to revolutionise cargo management practices.
Astra Innovative Award, sponsored by Inzpire
Winner: Warrant Officer Rowbotham
Rowbotham is the creator of, and driving force behind, the innovative Project IMMERSIVE, a virtual and federated Joint Operations Centre, underpinned by artificial intelligence. His tireless innovating, often in his own time, and his visionary leadership have meant that the project has taken great leaps forward over the past year and is now being showcased to international allies. His mentoring of other innovators, both within his team at RAF Wyton and within other teams, has also significantly widened and strengthened the innovative culture across the RAF.
Astra Sustainability Award, sponsored by Jacobs
Winner: Squadron Leader Sweeney
Sweeney is fully committed to achieving the RAF’s sustainable goals, which has included spearheading the Defence Aviation Net Zero Strategy, with a Charter signed by the RAF and industry partners this year. His work has not just been at the strategic level though; he has been integral to the delivery of many other projects across the spectrum of sustainability. His passionate dedication, inspiring leadership, and engaging approachable manner mean he is an outstanding ambassador for innovation and sustainability.
Astra Contribution to Operations Award, sponsored by Capgemini
Winner: Sergeant Gager
Sergeant Gager personifies the spirit of innovation and continuous improvement. His creation of the Air Wing Performance Dashboard has significantly enhanced the delivery of Air Mobility tasking across the RAF to meet our operational demands, meeting the needs of multiple diverse uses across government. Thanks to his diligent work, over 200 people responsible for delivering Air Mobility operational tasking, including at his home unit of RAF Brize Norton, now have the ability to access accurate information and effectively communicate collaboratively.
Astra Ambitious and Imaginative Award, sponsored by BAE Systems
Winner: Squadron Leader Kennedy
Kennedy is a relentless innovator who consistently generates ideas that could significantly benefit Defence, addressing problem sets that are wide-ranging and global. His work on Pj BALLISTIC has already given the RAF a handheld wind calculator that supports precision air drops, even at high altitude, which has a wide range of uses from combat operations to humanitarian missions. Never deterred by setbacks, he is now working on AirScribe; cockpit voice to text transcription demonstrating the much broader application of airborne computing.
Astra Ambassador Award, sponsored by Thales
Winner: Air Specialist Class 1 Carpenter
Carpenter has been nothing short of exemplary, using his innovative mindset to significantly improve multiple processes within his section at RAF Brize Norton. His innovative work during Operation PITTING simplified complex clothing order processes, ensuring the supply of operational clothing met the demand during an exceptionally busy period. Consistently seeking improvement for himself and others and upskilling to enable delivery of vital changes, Carpenter’s passion for his profession, innovating, and the RAF’s core ethos and values set him as a role model for all personnel.
Astra Rising Star Award, sponsored by Frazer-Nash
Winner: Air Specialist Class 1 Cottrell
Cottrell has seen significant personal growth during the two years she has been involved in Astra. Starting with minimal experience in extended reality but rising to exceptional heights, she has developed her innovative mindset and leadership abilities while supporting the development of Pj IMMERSIVE and Astra at RAF Wyton. Cottrell truly reflects the development of the RAF’s innovative culture. She is an exceptional, diligent ambassador for grassroots innovation, devoting her time to Astra and the mentoring of others.
People’s Choice Award, sponsored by Babcock
Winner: Sergeant Sibley
An enthusiastic and engaging innovator, Sibley is the driving force behind Pj NGEN PHASE 1 TRAINING as well as the Lead Ambassador for RAF Halton that is igniting an innovative mindset across the RAF. His innovative use of Virtual Reality (VR) in an immersive platform is a first for Phase 1 RAF training. The future implications are huge, with potential reductions in contact time to train recruits and the ability to accommodate all learning styles. Sibley is also now chairing a VR working group with industry partners and stakeholders to help drive forward the use of VR in the RAF.
Astra Core Team Award, sponsored by Leonardo
Winner: Project ARTEMIS
Pj ARTEMIS is poised to deliver an outstanding innovative capability to the RAF and Defence at significant pace. Beginning earlier this year, the project aimed to train II Squadron RAF Regiment personnel to operate nano drones at significant speed to tactical effect by the end of the year. With 50 personnel now trained to operate at speeds of up to 70mph with high accuracy, they have already exceeded all expectations. The innovative project has the potential to directly enable increased agility on the battlefield, providing low-cost tactical advantage for the RAF in the UK and across the world.
Chief of the Air Staff’s Creativity Award, presented by Air Chief Marshal Sir Rich Knighton
Winner: Cpl Cushing
Cushing has brought a revolution in Air Traffic Control operational processes at RAF Brize Norton through his innovative use of PowerBI. Recognising the inadequacy of the paper briefing process, he pioneered a remote digital briefing system that empowers staff to brief from any location, incorporates fatigue management, and delivers a supervisor’s dashboard with real-time updates. With a vision to create a comprehensive Squadron operating picture, he collaborated with other platform software engineers to deliver a seamless, end-to-end planning to execution process in an automated digital environment.
Unfortunately Corporal Cushing was deployed at the time of the awards so was unable to personally accept it. He was dialled in to the occasion though and will receive the award when he returns to the UK.