AFMC Command News

Edwards AFB elevates innovation culture through Project Mercury Innovators Workshop

  • Published
  • By Laisa Leao
  • 412th Test Wing

When troops separated by long distances needed to exchange information, the Department of Defense created the Internet. During World War I, when pilots needed to know air traffic conditions to prevent collisions, the U.S. Army installed two-way radios inside an aircraft for the first time. Like the proverb says, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Today, innovation is the key to outpace all peer competitors. With that in mind, the 412th Test Wing's Continuous Improvement & Innovation (CI2) team hosted a Project Mercury Innovators Workshop Feb. 21-23, on Edwards AFB, California. The workshop engaged over 70 Airmen and equipped participants with essential tools and knowledge to cultivate a thriving culture of innovation within their respective units.

Noteworthy leaders, including Col. Matthew Caspers, 412th TW vice commander, underscored the significance of innovation across leadership levels by attending the workshop. Cyle Fena, the 412th TW Plans and Programs deputy director, delivered opening remarks during each session, emphasizing the importance of fostering an innovative mindset.

Guided by Ethan Eagle, who holds a doctorate in aerospace engineering and is the head coach for Project Mercury, the workshop featured a team of experienced alumni-turned-coaches. The curriculum employed a multi-tiered approach, with Innovation 101 providing foundational knowledge of core innovation principles and Innovation 201 delving deeper into practical application. Recognizing the pivotal role of leadership buy-in, a dedicated leadership seminar was included for base leaders, emphasizing the need to foster an innovative environment.

Participants actively engaged in dynamic exercises designed to spark creative problem-solving and challenge established approaches. A key theme of the workshop was building resilience, with participants learning the importance of perseverance and understanding that setbacks are often a steppingstone to success.

"Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity… and tenacity. This emphasis on tenacity equips Airmen with the necessary grit to overcome challenges and drive positive change within their organizations," explained Eagle.

Established in 2019 by Air University, Project Mercury is a 90-day program dedicated to fostering collaborative innovation in the Air and Space Forces. Rebecca Kern, an Innovation Project Officer from the CI2 team, played a pivotal role in bringing the workshop to Edwards and graduated last December from Project Mercury’s 11th cohort.

"My experience in the program was invaluable, and that is why I wanted to bring a condensed version here,” said Kern. "There is no better innovation training out there… It provides a methodology for diverse teams to develop innovative ideas to complex problems and advance them through execution. I think that many Airmen want to be innovative, but they don’t know exactly where to start. Project Mercury teaches a repeatable process for thinking creatively and progressing innovation projects that achieve positive change within our units."

Project Mercury transforms military and civilian personnel into "Certified Professional Innovators" through the University of Michigan's School of Engineering. The program begins with a one-week in-person session, followed by a 90-day, part-time virtual program with commander support, allowing participants to dedicate six hours weekly to developing innovative solutions. Lt. Col. Jason Schulze and Lt. Col. Carlos Pinedo from the Test Pilot School are in the current cohort of the program, Cohort 12.

Coaching alongside Eagle were Staff Sgt. Ian Pierce, 412th Maintenance Group, Dr. Craig Buying, AFWERX Director of Fellowships, Rebecca Gorman, Program Analyst, AF/A30X, Pentagon, and Maj. Stacie Shafran, Space Launch Delta 30, Vandenberg Space Force Base.

To learn more about Project Mercury and its mission to propel military and strategic innovation, visit or follow the organization on LinkedIn at Project Mercury Innovators Forum.