Aeronautics technology development: Time to pick up the pace
20 June 2014, 5:15 p.m. EDT
by Janice Saylor, AIAA marketing
The message from the Friday morning plenary panel at AVIATION 2014 is that change does not happen rapidly in aerospace. As the FAA’s Steve Bradford put it, “Your good ideas from today will take seven years to research, seven years to develop, and then [will be] deployed in years 14 to 20, and you’ll be right on the cusp of that final step in year 20.” Bradford is chief scientist, architecture and NextGEN development, at the FAA’s Office of the Chief Scientist.
That speed, or rather lack of speed, and the reasons behind it were the subject of the panel, which was moderated by Glen Roberts, chief engineer at the Center for Advanced Aviation Systems Development at MITRE Corporation. Panelists also included Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate at NASA; Al Romig, vice president and program manager, Skunk Works engineering and advanced systems, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics; and Spiro Lekoudis, director of weapons systems, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Department of Defense.
There was substantial agreement among the panelists that the speed of aerospace development is hampered by the complexities of the technology, the demand for safety and the precise engineering needed to bring an aerospace platform to fruition. Shinn pointed out that “the non-aerospace pace of innovation is much faster…[and] while there are all kinds of good reasons that it's slower in aerospace…we need to think about how to speed up innovative ideas.” Another drag on development, said Lekoudis, is that the gap from idea to design, from design to development and then to fruition is frustrating, “because the Department of Defense is worried about maintaining technological superiority…[and] the next conflict could be unconventional…we need to develop technology surprises for others” in an affordable and swift manner.
Panelists had several recommendations for improving the process. These included a greater focus on developing a more streamlined and innovative production process with greater reliance on technology like “big data” to pinpoint problems in production; more use of open systems, allowing for greater collaboration between project teams; and renewed focus on developing codes in computational fluid dynamics to enable even greater research and development success.
Shin especially noted the “many advances being made in non-aerospace communications and in the field of additive technology.” He said that “aerospace can capitalize on that convergent research.”
Romig reminded the panelists and audience that not every solution for the innovation speed gap is technical in nature, that “visibility of the process and getting the public to understand it” are also important. “We need to speak in a non-technical way about what we do,” he said. Lawmakers and the public “may not understand us without [our] watering down the message,” said Romig. But, he added, by relating “to what they care about and clearly [articulating] its value and how it serves the country, we can get them on our side.”
Aerospace demands precision, thought and careful planning and production. But in a world where the next conflict, natural disaster or business logistics solution depends on aerospace, this community must find ways to provide those solutions rapidly without compromising its standards, the panel concluded.
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