Systems Thinking for Modern Aerospace Complexity

This comprehensive course covers systems thinking for addressing complexity in the development of modern aerospace systems. Applying a systems approach provides insight into the unexpected ways a system will behave due to complexity. Learning how to deal with scale, interdependencies and interconnectedness in large systems uncovers leverage points for managing complexity.

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the causes of emergent behavior
  • Determine whether a problem is in the simple, complicated, complex or chaotic domain
  • Compare systems thinking and systems engineering historically and currently
  • Apply Senge's Five Disciplines to engineering problem solving methodology
  • Demonstrate how feedback mechanisms highlight how delays cause system oscillations
  • Synthesize methods used in other industries that are compatible with hardware focused engineered systems

Who Should Attend

Intended participants are engineers and aerospace professionals in technical fields who work on large system development. It is not geared toward a specific technical field, rather to engineers and leaders that could use a bigger picture perspective on system interactions. The course benefits anyone interested in understanding and managing complexity within aerospace. 


  •  How Complexity Affects Aerospace 
    • Griffin’s Elegant Design 
    • Definition of Complexity and Emergent Behavior 
    • Linear vs. Non-linear Thinking 
    • Development of Systems Engineering and Systems Thinking 
  • Thinking in Systems 
    • How Perspective Influences your Decisions 
    • Meadows Systems Approach to Problem Solving 
    • Systems Thinking for Organizations That Learn 
    • Double Loop Learning and System Traps 
  • Guiding Principles for Complexity 
    • INCOSE Primer 
    • Underlying Systemic Structure Models
    • Cynefin Domain Categories for Problems and Types of Solutions 
  • Complex Adaptive Systems 
    • Addressing Emergent Behavior and Self-Organization 
    • Organizations as Complex Adaptive Systems 
    • Collaborative Systems Thinking and Sensemaking 
  • Complexity Measurement and Risk Assessment 
    • Complexity Induced Vulnerabilities 
    • Circuit Breaker Interventions 
    • Coupling and Modularity Aspects of Complexity 
  • Case Studies in Aerospace 
    • Agile for Aircraft Systems Integration 
    • Space Shuttle Accident Investigations
    • Engineering Problem Solving Strategies 
  • Summary and Further Learning Opportunities
Course notes will be made available about one week prior to the course event. You will receive an email with detailed instructions on how to access your course notes. Since these notes will not be distributed on site, AIAA and your course instructor highly recommend that you bring your computer with the course notes already downloaded. 

Though not required, a recommended book for further reading is Complex Systems Engineering: Theory and Practice, AIAA Progress in Aeronautics and Astronautics, Volume 256.
Dr. Dianne DeTurris is Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, CA. She has taught propulsion courses for 20 years, with a research specialization in hypersonic airbreathing propulsion, and teaches complexity in engineered systems. She is an academic scholar for the AIAA Complex Aerospace Systems Exchange, and also researches global competency for engineers.