FROM THE EDITORS: Aerospace America marks a milestone
By Ben Iannotta and Cat Hofacker|January 2024
The Cold War was raging and Ronald Reagan was U.S. president when Princeton University aerospace professor Jerry Grey put fingers to keyboard to inform AIAA members and others about a project he’d been leading behind the scenes: reconceiving AIAA’s dense but informative membership magazine, Astronautics & Aeronautics, into Aerospace America, the magazine you have in your hands or on your screen.
“We plan to make our articles easier to read and even more analytical and more graphic than in the past,” wrote Grey, our founding publisher, in our inaugural issue, published 40 years ago this month. He promised a “more useful” publication that would serve as a “leadership forum for the aerospace engineering profession.”
Perhaps because of his engineering background, Grey knew that for the new magazine to flourish, he needed to lay down a strong foundation — or, in non-engineering terms, an independent soul.
Our 40th anniversary provided us with a fresh opportunity to reflect on how we as a magazine and the topics we cover have evolved. So we pulled a dog-eared original of the January 1984 issue from a white envelope and turned it into a pdf.
Flipping — and clicking — through the issue, we noted how much of aerospace innovation in 1984 was driven by defense spending. Norm Augustine, then-AIAA president, provided an editorial noting the aerospace professional’s role in “preserving the peace” through “qualitative superiority” of miliary technology.
Forty years on, the commercial world and private funds now drive much of the innovation. That’s true for the space sector and increasingly in aeronautics with the development of electric air taxis. Aerospace America has covered that transition well, in no small part because Grey established that we should capture reality as it is and run op-eds expressing a rich variety of views about how it should be.
Our soul has been consistent over the decades. Elaine Camhi, editor-in-chief from 1991 to 2013, recalls that her goal was to make the magazine “interesting and informative without being tutorial.” Reading it could not feel like “homework,” she says. We have kept that philosophy over the last decade while adapting the design and look of the magazine to make use of today’s digital production tools and platforms. Our page designs are notably more colorful and our graphics more ambitious and rich in context than any time in the magazine’s history.
Substance-wise, while defense issues dominated the inaugural issue, a close look revealed the seeds of the topics that are dominant today. Strategies for returning astronauts to the moon were debated; questions were raised about the role of government versus commercial industry; ideas were broached for building more fuel-efficient jet engines. There was even one story about “autonomous” military “drones.” Also on the military side, we noted a familiar refrain: “If the aerospace profession is in any danger of failing our nation today, it is certainly not because of a lack of technological prowess. Rather, it is more likely because of a ponderous and often debilitating management process that oversees our military R&D activities,” Augustine wrote.
Now, as then, we believe our role is to take you inside the debates among the scientists, engineers and government executives to show you how they are grappling with these and other topics. We won’t shy away from the nitty gritty technical details, but we will share them in a manner that’s understandable and fun to read.
Above all, we won’t fear change. As Grey noted in a New York Times profile of him in 1996, if humanity is going to survive and prosper, “we cannot stay still.”