Accelerating the Pace of Progress
By Dan Dumbacher|July/August 2021
Solving challenging problems is the legacy we have received from the nearly 90 years of AIAA members who have come before us. They have developed the technologies and solutions enabling global commercial air travel, human exploration of low Earth orbit and the moon, missions across our solar system and beyond, and secure defenses necessary for our way of life. In short, AIAA members have been essential in the rapid technological progress since Kitty Hawk.
As the aerospace industry continuously and rapidly evolves from a primarily government-driven enterprise to government- and commercially-driven activities, AIAA and its members continue to tackle the technical challenges, providing critical solutions that help solve the problems of tomorrow and assuring society’s future. The new ingredient needed is working at ever higher levels of systems integration and application. We must build upon our technical discipline foundation with systems thinking to accelerate our progress.
AIAA has the passionate members, the encouraging external stakeholders, and the tools to enhance dramatically the Institute’s impact across the aerospace industry and profession. AIAA can and will continue to fulfill our mission of helping our members and their organizations succeed.
By focusing on the key priorities and issues across aeronautics, research and development, and space, AIAA visibly addresses the problems of today, tackling hurdles and building future aerospace systems for society. AIAA has added to its strong technical foundation the ability to address adjacent technologies, adjacent markets, economic and business aspects, policy considerations, and has developed the connective tissue to bring all of these talents and skills to bear.
Today is an increasingly innovative time in the aerospace community – led by the dedicated and passionate involvement of AIAA members. The wide commercialization of several technologies is here, or imminent:
• Electric aircraft are being developed with reduced carbon emissions.
• Autonomous air taxis are being built for more efficient transportation.
• Supersonic and hypersonic commercial aircraft are in development and already being sold.
• Hypersonic technology is being used to protect our society’s way of life.
• Vehicles are flying on Mars.
• Sustainable operations on the moon are being planned.
• More in-depth exploration of our solar system and beyond is scheduled.
In the history of flight, never has there been this much new, creative, and innovative activity across aerospace. Based on a soon-to-be-released AIAA study on the state of the aerospace industry, more than 70% of respondents are excited about opportunities in space exploration, artificial intelligence/machine learning, and advanced manufacturing. This varied perspective on innovation requires us to address key needs and priorities to make progress at the pace required to accelerate the innovation. AIAA sees three areas of focus: aeronautics, R&D, and space.
For aeronautics, there clearly is a need to address carbon emissions, autonomous flight and operations, a return to prepandemic commercial air travel levels, and the development of supersonic/hypersonic commercial air travel.
For R&D, we must invest in advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, cybersecurity, and many more areas to stay on the cutting edge. New technologies are needed for the future, new systems solutions are essential to continue improving our way of life.
For space, key issues are developing the low Earth space economy, addressing space traffic awareness and coordination, developing the technologies and operations for human return to the moon for the long term, and continuing exploration of the solar system and beyond.
The essential cross-cutting AIAA efforts – particularly in terms of workforce development and diversity, equity, and inclusion – are critical to success across aeronautics, R&D, and space. We need to include diverse perspectives and bring new people into the profession to benefit from and reflect the richness of society. The U.S. aerospace industry faces an aging workforce, gender gap, lack of diversity, and significant hiring and retention challenges. Our industry needs more STEM-literate students readily adaptable to rapidly changing challenges and technologies.
AIAA is committed to solving the problems, developing new ideas, and applying technology in creative ways to shape the future of aerospace and build a better future for everyone.★
In the history of flight, never has there been this much new, creative, and innovative activity across aerospaceDan Dumbacher, AIAA Executive Director