Momentum Member Spotlight - January 2013
AIAA Congratulates John Blanton of GE Power and Water
By Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications
The AIAA Member Spotlight for January, 2013, shines on Dr. John Blanton, Principal Engineer, GE Power and Water, an AIAA member since 1978, and an AIAA Associate Fellow since 1993. Throughout his membership with AIAA, Dr. Blanton has been actively involved in the Institute’s affairs. He has served two terms on the AIAA Board of Directors, been Chair of two AIAA Sections, served on numerous standing and technical committees of the Institute, and is currently Chair of the Associate Fellow Grade Committee.
Like so many of our members, Dr. Blanton stated that his inspiration to become an engineer was driven both by world events and by inspiring teachers, explaining: “I grew up with the cold war and the space race and my early heroes were people like Chuck Yeager, Werner Von Braun, and the NASA astronauts. I loved planes, rockets, trains and cars, and my parents encouraged my interests with visits to airports, train stations, and museums. I was (and still am) a voracious reader. My parents subscribed to National Geographic, and in those years it seemed that each issue had something about aviation or the space program. One of my early fictional heroes was Tom Swift, Jr. and I had a complete set of the books by Victor Appleton II. I wanted to be Tom Swift, Jr. (unfortunately, my father was not a billionaire like Tom Swift, Sr.)! I had some excellent science teachers in high school, particularly in Chemistry and Physics, who gave me considerable encouragement. I never seriously considered any other vocation that to be an engineer. In college at Virginia Tech, I chose Mechanical Engineering as a major, and enjoyed my experiences there so much that I stayed through completion of a Ph.D. Two mentors from those years, J. B. Jones and Walter O’Brien, have remained in those roles to this day as well as being lifelong friends.”
When asked about his favorite career moment, Dr. Blanton thought about it a for a bit, and then said: “I don’t think I could point to one particular favorite moment, as there have been many that I think back to fondly. Although my entire professional career of 33 years has been in the employment of General Electric, it has been split between three different GE businesses and I have had many great experiences in each business. In addition I have also had some gratifying experiences as an adjunct faculty at Union College and at the University of Cincinnati. And of course I have been very active in professional organizations like AIAA and ASME since my student years, and continue to enjoy my involvement with both great organizations. I would have to say that the career moments that stand out almost all involve a positive interaction with other colleagues rather than some individual accomplishment on my part. I take great satisfaction when a colleague fondly mentions a past project or task that we worked on together, especially if they feel that I had a positive influence on the experience. I have established so many great relationships over the years and these mean more to me than any other aspect of my career.”
When asked about the future of aerospace, Dr. Blanton discussed the dreams of a generation of engineers being hampered by the realities of resources, time and funding, stating: “Like so many others from my generation, I am disappointed that we haven’t achieved the “vision of the future” as depicted in 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Jetsons cartoon. If you had asked me at the beginning of my career where we would be in 2013, I would have said we would have a permanent manned colony on Mars, flying cars in every garage, and maybe even transporter machines ala Star Trek. On the other hand, we do have technologies today that we hadn’t even dreamed about at that time, and because of that it is difficult today to even imagine where we will be even just a few years down the road. The differences between what we may dream about and what actually happens are often tied to the realities of the available natural resources and economics rather than what is technically possible. When you think of Aerospace Engineering what comes to mind of course are those technologies around the transportation and defense industries, but it is important to remember that the technologies developed by aerospace professionals in those industries often are spun off to non-aerospace applications, including consumer products. This means that the future of other industries is the aerospace of today. The point I am making is that although we may work on technologies today based upon a future that may turn out to be different than our dreams, and the products we think we are designing don’t become reality, the technologies themselves are very important and could become key to the development of other products that we haven’t even imagined. We don’t know the future, but we do know what we are doing is an important enabler!”
For those still in college and studying for an aerospace degree, Dr. Blanton offered this advice: “My years as a college student are full of great memories and there is very little that I can think of that I would have done differently. A successful college experience requires balance and planning. You must remember you are primarily there to get an education, but if that is all you gain from the years invested then you are missing out. College is a place to build memories too, so you should set aside some time for recreation, sports, entertainment, and other diversions that a college community offers. But never lose sight of the goal, which is on-schedule graduation with a clear post-graduate plan. For most graduates that means a rewarding job, and planning for that outcome is something that should start at the beginning rather than the end of your college experience. I can tell you most companies looking at college students as potential hires will look very closely at not only your classroom performance but also your extracurricular activities (like AIAA) and what temporary workplace experiences you have had during your school breaks. Landing these good summer jobs or co-op assignments is important, so don’t wait until the good jobs are gone before you start looking! If going on to graduate school is your goal, then again you need to plan ahead. There are great opportunities available but, like the jobs, the good positions will go early. Remember your keys: balance and planning!” For those still in high school and thinking about pursuing an aerospace degree in college, Dr. Blanton counseled: “If a young person is already thinking about majoring in aerospace sciences then they clearly already have the bug. That is good! An important enabler to a successful career is to be working in a field about which you are enthusiastic. You now focus on selecting the college that is right for you and laying out the plan to get there. The earlier you start the better. How do you decide? There are several factors you need to consider, of course. There are big differences in the many institutions that you might choose and you need to look at the factors that are important to you. These factors include the size of the school, the setting (e.g.urban or rural), cost including potential financial aid, location, the school’s reputation with potential employers, and the school environment. The college you choose is the first big step in determining the degree of success of your college and ultimately your career experience. Don’t take it lightly and consider all of the important factors.
We concluded our conversation by discussing the value of AIAA to aerospace professionals, with Dr. Blanton giving AIAA a ringing endorsement: “I already mentioned that prospective employers of college students look favorably on involvement in professional organizations like AIAA. But don’t become a member just to have it on your resume. When I discuss the value of AIAA membership with potential members I am almost always asked the question “What’s in it for me?” My answer is always the same: If you put nothing into it, you will get little out. But if you get involved, you will likely find that you will rapidly find more and more opportunities that will have tangible and positive effects on your professional growth. My first group leadership experiences came with AIAA and ASME in a low-risk, low-threat environment long before it happened at GE. I practiced key negotiating and communication skills, organizational management, and conflict resolution without the stress that comes with knowing that your livelihood may depend upon your performance. And perhaps most important of all, I have forged hundreds of personal and professional relationships with well-placed professionals in industry, academic and government organizations all over the world. Is AIAA membership of any value? You bet it is!”
AIAA Congratulates Dr. John Blanton for his selection as the AIAA Member Spotlight for the month of January 2013, and thanks him for his long record of service to the Institute and to the aerospace industry.