7–11 January 2019
Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego,
San Diego, California

Aerospace and Disruption Go Hand in Hand

Posted: 9 January 2017, 1:45 p.m. EST

Panelists: Moderator Robie Samanta Roy, vice president of technology, strategy and innovation, Lockheed Martin; Chuck Beames, consultant; Carissa Christensen, managing partner, The Tauri Group; Mark Lewis, director, Science and Technology Policy Institute, Institute for Defense Analyses; George Whitesides, CEO, Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Co.

by Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications

Aerospace is a disruptive industry — making the seemingly impossible possible as a matter of routine — but the pace of disruption is quickening, panelists said Jan. 9 at the opening plenary session of the  2017 AIAA SciTech Forum in Grapevine, Texas.

The "Setting the Landscape — Factors Driving Today's Disruptive Environment" panel examined the status of disruption in the aerospace industry, how that disruption is changing the ways the industry conducts its business and how disruption will drive future aerospace innovation.

Chuck Beames, an independent aerospace consultant who works primarily with venture capital firms, likened aerospace to the California gold rush, with a tremendous influx of new players, companies and visionaries that change the playing field tremendously. The gold in Beames' rush is "space data," or expanding knowledge gleaned from space-related efforts. He said whether the data is made in space or transmitted from space, it is tremendously valuable to emerging space businesses.

In regards to innovation and invention, the panel emphasized that there is a difference.

Mark Lewis, director of the Science and Technology Policy Institute with the Institute of Defense Analyses, reminded the audience that although the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, they also held back progress by suing competitors.

Setting-the-Landscape-Panel_SciTech2017Participants in the panel discussion, "Setting the Landscape — Factors Driving Today's Disruptive Environment," Jan. 9 at the AIAA SciTech Forum, in Grapevine, Texas.

"The real money is innovation, not invention," Beames pointed out.

On the matter of risk diversity, panelists said the aerospace industry, contrary to popular opinion, is actually pretty risk tolerant. However, in terms of workforce, they said the industry needs to embrace a new viewpoint when it comes to hiring — accepting tech-savvy individuals as well as those skilled in classical aerospace disciplines.

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Co., said a key to hiring is having exciting problems to solve.

"If you have exciting problems to work on, you have no difficulty hiring people," he said.

The panel also touched upon the importance of government research laboratories, which Lewis said are "extremely important," and "tons of technology are realized and implemented by that approach." A Silicon Valley approach also exists in the aerospace industry, panelists said. But, although there are similarities between aerospace and Silicon Valley, they said aerospace is dominated by "mature companies" that don't move as quickly as the firms in Silicon Valley.

Lewis offered a cautionary note, warning that Silicon Valley's mantra of "fail early, fail often" really doesn't work in aerospace.

"[The] U.S. Air Force cannot afford to fail," he said.

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