6–10 January 2020
Hyatt Regency Orlando,
Orlando, Florida

Electrification, Autonomy Focus of Today’s Innovation


Moderator Erik Lindbergh, president, VerdeGo Aero; Michael Hinderberger, senior vice president of aircraft development, Aerion Corp.; Gwen Lighter, CEO and founder, GoFly; Ben Marcus, co-founder and chairman, AirMap; Kevin Noertker, co-founder and CEO, Ampaire Inc.; John L. Petersen, chairman, The Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation; Brian Yutko, senior vice president of programs, Aurora Flight Sciences

by Michele McDonald, AIAA communications manager

AIAA SCITECH FORUM, San Diego, Jan. 9, 2019 — The “Lindbergh Innovation Forum” session showcased disruptive technologies from electric to supersonic that promise to transform aviation.

Erik Lindbergh, grandson of Charles Lindbergh and president of VerdeGo Aero, said education is one of the missions of the Lindbergh Foundation. He said the foundation in particular aims to keep middle school students — especially girls — interested in STEM.

“This is a work of passion, but it’s absolutely changing the world,” Lindbergh said.

Part of the work is fueling innovation as aviation enters an electric age, panelists said. GoFly, a Boeing-sponsored competition, is offering a $2 million prize for the best design of a safe, quiet, ultra-compact and near-vertical takeoff and landing aircraft capable of carrying a single person for 20 miles without refueling or recharging. AIAA is one of the competition’s partners.

Prizes such as DARPA’s Grand Challenge, which pushed autonomous vehicles, have spurred innovation, noted Gwen Lighter, GoFly CEO and founder. Phase 3 of the GoFly competition will be late this year, Lighter said.

Electrification and autonomy were common threads for the forum.

“Autonomy increases the access to flying machines,” said Brian Yutko, senior vice president of programs at Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing company. “Electric propulsion increases the access to more types of flying machines.”


Participants in the "Lindbergh Innovation Forum,” Jan. 9 at the 2019 AIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition (AIAA SciTech 2019) in San Diego.

Supersonic is making a comeback, although with a quieter and more efficient profile than the Concorde.

“While a technical marvel, [the Concorde] is not what we would consider a commercial success,” said Michael Hinderberger, senior vice president of aircraft development at Aerion Corp.

The new supersonic plan is designed to be fast, efficient and luxurious, with an initial eye on the elite business traveler.

Ampaire’s market for electric aircraft is aimed at a more general market, said Kevin Noertker, co-founder and CEO of Ampaire Inc. Similar to Tesla, Ampaire is retrofitting an existing vehicle, in this case a small plane, with an electric engine.

With the advent of personal electric aircraft, cities become airports, said Ben Marcus, co-founder and chairman of AirMap. Low-altitude airspace is complex, and the current airspace management system isn’t designed to support the scale that drones bring. Unmanned air traffic needs to be managed for both safety and efficiency. Plus, the role of the air traffic controller and pilot are merging, he said.

Electrification is opening the skies to many who share Marcus’ dream.

“I always dreamt about being able to fly airplanes to work because I hate driving,” Marcus said.

Watch the full video for more details.

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