Flight Path

AIAA’s Next Era of Innovation and Exploration


It is a great honor to write this first column as the new President of AIAA. Over the next two years, I have a single overarching goal for the Institute: to reverse the long-term membership decline and get our organization growing again. The aerospace industry is healthy and growing, though it is changing dramatically with the introduction of new players and new technologies. Yet, since the start of the current century, our professional membership has declined at a consistent annual rate of about 3% per year. We cannot serve our profession if we do not adequately represent it. We must change and adapt in order to grow. Reversing this membership decline must be our first order of business.

In pursuit of this goal, there are four broad themes I plan to focus on:

Technical excellence. We are the professional society for aerospace. The Institute is founded on a core of technical excellence; it is essential to our identity and our credibility.

Transparency. We each choose to belong to AIAA; it is an organization of volunteers. Everything we do should be open and transparent to our membership.

Diversity. We in aerospace undertake some of society’s most noble and ambitious pursuits. We must do a better job of reflecting that to society. We must make the Institute a more welcoming home for aerospace enthusiasts regardless of gender, race, or national origin. We serve as role models and must be visibly inclusive.

Outreach. We will need to reach out in many directions: to new, entrepreneurial companies that are emerging, to new technical disciplines such as information sciences and robotics, to the next generation, and to groups we do not adequately represent today, particularly women and minorities.

To do this, we will need to both celebrate the past and look to the future. 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. This was one of the most important events of the 20th century (and some would say in all of human history), and nothing better exemplifies the spirit of innovation and exploration that our profession represents. In 2019, AIAA will host the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Washington, D.C. I encourage each of you to participate in this event. The IAC is a starting point, but we can and must do much more in answering the question “What’s Next?”.

Over the next two years a topic you will hear me stress a lot is that of “paying it forward.” I am thrilled to announce a perfect example of this—the largest gift in the Institute’s history. In 1959, a Grumman engineer and test pilot named Roger Wolfe Kahn set up a trust with the Institute of the Aerospace Sciences (one of AIAA’s precursors) as the ultimate beneficiary. The conditions of that trust—to first take care of his family, among other things, were recently satisfied and AIAA has already received $7 million from the Kahn Trust. What we do with it is up to us. I know for sure that we want to celebrate it, invest it wisely, and encourage others to emulate Kahn’s generosity.

Celebrate. This is an amazing act of generosity and of long-term planning. We’ll use Aerospace America, AIAA.org, and our social media channels to tell everyone about Roger Kahn’s story.

Invest. We now have the obligation to use these funds wisely. Should we set up a matching fund strategy and give the combination to the AIAA Foundation? Should we endow scholarships? Fund some new commemorative prize? Underwrite some new large outreach initiative? There are a wide range of possibilities and together we can achieve great outcomes.

Emulate. The Kahn story is inspiring, but it need not be unique. Our country is about to undergo the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in history. We should build on the Kahn legacy, and encourage investment in our Institute as part of members’ estate planning.

I would love to hear your ideas—write me at KahnTrustIdeas@aiaa.org and tell us what you think AIAA should do. We will share this with our professional staff and our Board and plan to include you in our decisions. We’ll also get a conversation going on the new AIAA Engage.

Let’s celebrate the past while we reach for the future. I look forward to the next two years! ★

AIAA’s Next Era of Innovation and Exploration