Panel Discusses Shaping the Future of Aerospace
Tuesday, 14 January 2014
By Duane Hyland and Lawrence Garrett, posted at 1:30 p.m. EST
Tuesday morning’s plenary panel on how AIAA can shape the future of aerospace generated discussion along two tracks – first, what is the future of the industry and how can that future be shaped; and second, what role can AIAA play in that shaping?
Chairing the panel was Jim Albaugh, executive vice president, The Boeing Company, former president and CEO, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, and president-elect, AIAA. Other panelists included David Paul Hills, director, research and technology, Airbus Americas; Ray O. Johnson, senior vice president and chief technology officer, Lockheed Martin; Michael Ryschkewitsch, chief engineer, NASA; John J. Tracy, chief technology officer and senior vice president, engineering, operations and technology, Boeing.
The panelists first discussed future innovation in aerospace, the state of the industry, and what emerging technologies will continue to drive innovation and change. All of them acknowledged the industry’s difficult current environment, with Albaugh noting, “Right now, I think we’re at an interesting time – we don’t have the capability to put a man in space right now, with the United States Launch Vehicle; with the F-35 in test flight, with the 787 complete, there are no real active design teams building manned airplanes in the Unites States for the first time probably in a hundred years.” Albaugh then asked the group to talk about the future.
The panelists expressed two views – first, the industry must continue to tackle the major problems it is facing and keep driving progress forward; second, the U.S. must learn to work better on the international stage. Johnson stated, “No nation, not even the U.S., can take on space alone. As China and others increase their capabilities, we will have to learn to partner with them to tackle the future.” Johnson also said, when discussing how to keep the aerospace industry an attractive and exciting place for future generations, that industry must do a better job of promoting its remarkable achievements, stating, “We celebrate movie stars, we celebrate athletes, but we don’t do a great job celebrating people who do great things.”
The panel also agreed that funding, vision, and a will to sustain that vision are also going to be critical to driving future progress. All of the panelists agreed that moving forward will require moving beyond dated technology and ideas. Ryschkewitsch said that in some cases NASA is still using technology and assessing risk using rules formulated “in the 1960s,” with a “concurrent lack of investments to drive us forward.”
The panelists also agreed that even accounting changes, such as employing a cost-plus format in contracting rather than a fixed cost format, would be beneficial for driving innovation, allowing for greater flexibility and creativity in the design and test phases of a project.
Finally, all participants expressed the firm conviction that government still plays a key role in the future of aerospace. As Ryschkewitsch put it, “The essential role of government will be to take on the high-risk things; a company can’t take on a 10-year window to payoff, but the government can.” He said it is critical to the industry that the government continue to expand its support for technology development and testing.
Albaugh asked each of the panelists to name AIAA’s role in shaping that future. They expressed a wide range of views but highlighted one common theme: AIAA must remain as the vital bridge that brings the community together, and it must continue to serve as the forum for exchanging the information and ideas that allow the community to keep shaping the future. All panelists agreed that AIAA can also play a dynamic and vital role in keeping the public and the government informed about the state of the industry, stating clearly and simply what it is doing and why that matters.
The group also warned that AIAA must reach out to young professionals and serve their needs or its future will be imperiled. Each panelist urged AIAA to seek out young professionals, find out what motivates them to become aerospace engineers, and determine what their needs are. Johnson recommended that AIAA continue to do a great job fostering professional development, “beyond short courses or conferences…rather by offering AIAA events at the section level, where new and veteran engineers can meet, talk and discuss ideas and foster motivation.” The Institute should continue to offer innovative events that bring together all facets of the industry, and members of all ages, to allow them to learn from each other, said the panelists.
(Image: Jim Albaugh, Ray O. Johnson, David Hills, Michael Ryschkewitsch, and John J. Tracy participate in the panel discussion, "AIAA's Role in Defining the Future of Aerospace.")