Cameron Gackstetter won the Main Division 1st place prize of $10,000 in the 2015 Arctic Innovation Competition for his innovation of the ThawHead. The ThawHead is a portable, 40-pound apparatus which uses a two-stage process to thaw ice and then remove melt water and debris in an efficient manner. The ThawHead is designed to assist with the removal of ice and snow from airport lighting canisters, thus exposing the lights and any areas that may need to be repaired.

Inspired Development
The inspiration for the ThawHead came to Gackstetter through his recognition of a common and troubling Alaskan problem. On airport runways, groundwater often freezes inside airfield lighting canisters, and the ice build-up can damage wiring and reduce visible lighting. This can quickly become a critical issue if pilots cannot see the runway in order to safely land their planes, especially in rural areas and during the dark winter nights. When the lights freeze up, workers have to thaw the ice away to clear them. This is usually a long, slow process, and the typical methods (such as using a blowtorch) can be a hazardous task for workers and can also potentially damage the lights. Gackstetter wanted to create something that would quickly, safely, and efficiently thaw ice and remove melted water; thus, the innovation of the ThawHead came to be. Gackstetter sees the ThawHead as not only helpful, but necessary, in areas with harsh winter conditions, including Alaska. He explained, “The ThawHead cuts a 2-hour project down to 15 minutes, so it’s a big time saver.”

Taking a Chance
Gackstetter and his wife Shannon did not submit their idea until 11:58 p.m. on the day of the submission deadline. They had no expectations of winning the competition, but believed that they wouldn’t know how successful the ThawHead could be unless they tried. Taking a chance did in fact pay off for Gackstetter, and the AIC competition showed him what a promising innovation he had in the ThawHead. Winning the AIC and taking advantage of the resources and connections this provided served as a starting point for the couple to take their invention to the next phase.

Into The Future
Since winning AIC, the Gackstetters have attended multiple conferences to demonstrate the ThawHead, including a Canadian cold weather exhibit in Minneapolis. The state of Alaska has already purchased two of the machines and plans on purchasing more in the future; in October, the ThawHead will be featured in a trade magazine. The Gackstetters hope to convince more municipal and state governments, as well as the U.S. military, to purchase the ThawHead. In addition, they are marketing a complementary invention called the Thaw Rig – an optional, self-contained support system for the ThawHead, which is housed in an insulated trailer that can be pulled behind an ATV or snowmachine.

Words of Wisdom to Competitors
Cameron and Shannon’s advice to competitors would be, “Don’t afraid to ask questions.” The couple explained that having help from mentors and leaders is definitely beneficial for all competitors. “Believe in what you’re building,” said Cameron. The couple’s final advice to AIC competitors is, “Good luck and have fun!”

View a video taken during an interview with the Gackstetters on August 11, 2016.


2015 Main Division Winners

2015 Main Division Winners



The ThawHead; Photo courtesy of Central Alaska Metalworks Inc.