Why aerospace needs nerds, elite and the woke


If you’re passionate about something technical, you’re a nerd. If you’re among the best at what you do, you’re an elite. If you care about the world beyond you, you’re woke.

I’ll leave it to others to judge our collective penchant for labeling one another. Since labeling is probably here to stay, let me say I’m grateful that the democratic side of the world has nerds, elites and the woke, if that’s what people want to call them. We have those categories here at the magazine (I’m not naming names), in AIAA more broadly and throughout the aerospace industry.

Looking at the war in Ukraine, I’m glad Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have engineers who live and breathe the intricacies of automatic guidance, that those engineers are among the best in the world at it and that policymakers were aware enough to the dark side of the human spirit to know that, sadly, deadly weapons like the Javelin anti-armor missiles might someday make the difference for freedom. Here in the United States and in Australia, much the same could be said about the awakening to the need to create air-breathing hypersonic missiles before authoritarian governments do. This month’s Engineering Notebook article, “Reducing the need for hypersonic tunnel testing,” shows us the kind of basic research that must be done, and fast, for that to happen.

Autocrats are not the only threats to our future. We’ve created some problems through our love of technology, and some of those we’ll need to fix that way too. On climate change, we’re seeing an air transportation industry that once downplayed its pollution contributions waking up to the reality that all sectors must do their part. That epiphany is beginning to produce tangible results, as our cover story on sustainable aviation fuel shows. The race is on to see who will emerge as the elites in that field.

On matters of workforce, I’m grateful we’re waking up to the fact that our societies include people with diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. When we empower everyone, we make our industries and our governments more powerful. It’s about ethics, of course, but it’s also a matter of math. Technical excellence and creativity transcend all labels, and by accepting diversity, we maximize those factors on the democratic side of the equation. 

Perhaps more than any other factor, this acceptance is how we’ll live in a cleaner, safer, more free world.  


Ben Iannotta

About Ben Iannotta

Ben keeps the magazine and its news coverage on the cutting edge of journalism. He began working for the magazine in the 1990s as a freelance contributor and became editor-in-chief in 2013. He was editor of C4ISR Journal and has written for Air & Space Smithsonian, New Scientist, Popular Mechanics, Reuters and Space News.

Why aerospace needs nerds, elite and the woke