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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

    Momentum Member Spotlight – December 2015

    AIAA Congratulates Dr. Frank L. Lewis

    By Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications

     

    Dr.-Frank-Lewis-1 December still finds the Spotlight on a western trajectory, swiveling around to fall on Ft. Worth, Texas, and illuminating Dr. Frank L. Lewis, an AIAA Senior Member, and the Moncrief-O'Donnell Endowed Chair, and Head, Advanced Controls and Sensors Group, at the University of Texas – Arlington Research Institute. Lewis is the 2016 recipient of the AIAA Intelligent Systems Award, for his “contributions in intelligent neural-adaptive control with applications in autonomous aircraft systems, and in aircraft control and education.” Lewis has worked in aerospace control and guidance systems since 1983, and is highly regarded for his work on a new generation of high performance adaptive feedback controllers based on nonlinear neural network approximators.

    Lewis is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and holds or has contributed to several patents on guidance and control systems. Among his many honors are the 2012 IEEE Computational Intelligence Society Neural Networks Pioneer Award, the 2009 UK Institute of Measurement & Control Honeywell Field Engineering Medal, and the 1989 American Society of Engineering Education F.E. Terman Award. Lewis was the recipient of a Fulbright Research Award in 1988.

    Like so many Spotlight candidates before him, Lewis cited a parent as his inspiration for seeking out a career in aerospace, explaining: “My father was a pilot during World War II and flew the B-25 Liberator and the B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. He grew up during the Depression and lied about his age so he could join flight school in time to fly in 1942.” Lewis continued, “I learned to fly during college at Rice University and I hope no one ever finds out about the crazy things we did, including landing on the beach at Galveston when that was still possible! I flew for a time in the U.S. Navy and then switched to surface ships for the Cold War period. So my grandfather drove trains, my father drove planes, and I drove ships.” Lewis concluded by noting, “For many reasons I have always been intrigued by how such complicated machines can be brought under our control and be so responsive to the operator. I guess that curiosity developed into a love of automatic control systems and the mathematics that drives them.”

    When asked to pick out his favorite career memory thus far, Lewis had two. “When I turned 60 my best colleagues and friends in Asia organized a workshop for me in Macau. Until then, I never thought so many colleagues actually looked at my work. They made me reevaluate my life and my deep friendships,” noting “that it isn’t an exaggeration to say that.” Lewis’ students gave him his second memory: “this year my students got together and had a workshop for me in Chicago at the American Control Conference (ACC). They invited me to be the lead speaker, so I had an idea of what was going on, but was not fully prepared for the wonderful opening remarks they made.” Lewis grew introspective for a moment, musing: “You know, we work every day alone in our offices doing what we love — writing, developing new ideas in research and innovative ideas for making more impact on the students in class while teaching. We meet our students and work together on new ideas for their dissertation research. We write books and papers, and work in the lab to make things happen that have never happened before. But we never really sit back and take stock of ourselves, our friends, and our impact on our colleagues over the years. Then something like the workshop in Macau or the workshop at ACC happens and you realize that you really have built something important over the years that is tangible and there for everyone to see. It makes you think very hard about what you are doing with your life and the importance of true friends.”

    When asked what advice he had for college students looking to enter aerospace as a profession, Lewis responded, “The advice of others is more interesting—Leonardo da Vinci said, ‘ostinato rigore’ or obstinate rigor. Blaise Pascal said, ‘Thought makes the whole dignity of man. Therefore endeavor to think well.’ Dmitri Mendeleev said, ‘Look for peace and calm in work; you will find it nowhere else.’ Ibn Sina said, ‘It is our obligation to explore the most difficult questions in the clearest possible way and use reason and intellect to arrive at the best answer.’ Meng Tze said, ‘Man’s task is to understand patterns in nature and society.’” To that sage wisdom, Lewis added, “Read everything you can get your hands on and do your best to understand it and how it fits into the patterns you are building in your mind.”

    For high school students thinking about majoring in aerospace in college, Lewis noted, “Aerospace is one of the main frontiers on the edge of the new exciting developments in science. When you think of the atmosphere, the solar system, the galaxy, you realize that we are only taking the first baby steps in an immense journey. If you go into aerospace, you can do many things—build flying machines, build the control systems that make them beautiful, develop new mathematical theories of how they move and the behavior of the air around them, conceive of new craft that we have never before imagined.” He also reminded them that “the sky is your limit!” When it comes to more senior members of the aerospace community inspiring and mentoring younger people, Lewis urged them to “teach well, research with inspiration, and build ever more beautiful craft that take us into new imaginings of the mind. In short, do what you love!”

    Lewis also explained the value of AIAA to the aerospace engineer, “Community is always important to us as human beings. Though we may do our best work in solitude, we are at bottom social animals. It is always exciting to connect with colleagues, attend conferences, and read to see how our innovative ideas fit into developing patterns in contemporary thinking.”

    Lewis was asked his thoughts on winning this year’s Intelligent Systems Awards, and he stated, “I have had a lot of fun for many years writing books about aircraft control, neural network adaptive control, autonomous systems, and how we can get guaranteed performance from flight control systems that adapt and learn at the highest possible level we can imagine. It is great to see that others whom I respect deeply think these ideas were useful.”

    We closed the interview with me asking what Lewis saw in the “crystal ball” for aerospace. Lewis noted that “some of my ideas have been used in autonomous aircraft at Boeing and elsewhere,” adding that “A colleague I respect very much, who has served at the highest levels of government, once said that the F-35 and B-3 are probably the last manned aircraft.”

    AIAA congratulates Frank Lewis for his selection as the December 2015 Spotlight subject, and for winning this year’s AIAA Intelligent Systems Award. We look forward to his continued work and how it will shape the future of automated control systems.