welcome to atlanta

Welcome to Atlanta

We hope to see many new and familiar faces at our event, Aerospace Tech Week in Atlanta! If you are joining us here and reading this at the event, welcome! If you are receiving this magazine at home, please look ahead and consider attending our next event in Munich on April 17 and 18.

For those interested in learning about the latest in technology that can help airlines be more efficient, save money and be sustainable, or those working in the avionics, connectivity, MRO IT, flight ops IT, testing, MRO, MOSA/SOSA/FACE areas, this is the conference to attend.

At the show you will have access to multiple experts in these areas that will speak and share experiences from their operations and about their products and offerings. In this issue of Aerospace Tech Review, we also look at some of the same topics that will be covered at the show. One of those topics is cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity is or should be top of mind for all in aviation. Cyberattacks are becoming more frequent and will likely become more devastating. Being prepared, as much as possible, is key.

Back in June, Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport in Louisiana experienced a cyberattack on its administration system as part of a larger attack by a ransomware group. Fortunately, flight operations were not affected. In April, the international cyber hacking group Anonymous Sudan claimed credit for website outages of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and UPS. Both websites were restored within a couple of hours, and both said there was no impact on operations.

In February, seven German airport websites including those for Dusseldorf, Nuremberg and Dortmund, were knocked offline by a cyberattack.

All of these folks got lucky and these are a few examples of the cyberattacks that target the aviation industry. But concerns about aircraft and their interconnected functions, interfaces and systems, including ground, in-flight and maintenance operations and related processes, are real. These incidents could impact safety, business operations and the company reputations.

Experts from around the world are quoted in our story on cybersecurity by Jim Romeo that touts planning and preparation to anticipate possible cybersecurity breaches as key to preventing or minimizing damage due to them. Cybersecurity awareness, standards and best practices are discussed in the article starting on page 20.

Also in this issue we have an update on blockchain use in aviation. Aviation and blockchain seem like a match made in heaven. Accuracy and integrity of data is crucial to aviation. Blockchain can potentially provide extremely efficient, digitized and incorruptible parts tracking, as well as many other applications. It promises to improve data security, reduce costs and increase the efficiency of processes.

How would blockchain be used in our aviation world? Recording the location of assets in real-time, providing information like flight path, baggage onboarding, tracking down a lost asset, passenger details are some of the ways.

More specifically, in the world of caring for and maintaining aircraft, the experts at consulting firm PwC say it can provide “a boost of power and efficiency” to the MRO side of the airline business. “A picture of each plane’s configuration and maintenance history, accurate up to the second, would make it easier to predict when serious maintenance issues could ground a plane, and to analyze its condition and diagnose potential issues during MRO,” PwC says.

Blockchain offers the promise of continuously updating the logs for each aircraft part’s condition. This could help reduce the time needed for the inspection and maintenance of aircraft. Blockchain may also assist in predictive maintenance efforts. MRO service providers can also use blockchain and provide verifiable documentation for the components they have serviced or installed.

Beyond all that, this technology can help automate payment processes, and improve the ease with which airlines can keep track of the entire life cycle of an aircraft, from the manufacturing process to maintenance and repair process, to end of life.

The experts say cybersecurity is built into blockchain technology because it is a decentralized system built on principles of security, privacy and trust. According to a Deloitte white paper, blockchain is a “promising innovation … towards helping enterprises tackle immutable cyber-risk challenges such as digital identities and maintaining data integrity.”

But the Deloitte paper cautions that, “blockchain’s characteristics do not provide an impenetrable panacea to all cyber ills, to think the same would be naïve at best. Instead, as with other technologies blockchain implementations and rollouts must include typical system and network cybersecurity controls, due diligence, practice and procedures.”

You can see our story on blockchain starting on page 40.

So whether you are joining us either in Atlanta, Munich or both, to learn more about areas of technology that could be so important to your business operations like cybersecurity and blockchain — welcome. We hope you also enjoy the many other areas we will be covering including avionics, connectivity, testing, flight operations IT, MRO IT or MOSA/SOSA/FACE. We look forward to hosting this event and creating the environment of learning, information sharing and provoking new avenues of thought about how to improve aviation and aerospace.

Fearmongering or Wake Up Call?

Fearmongering or Wake Up Call?

In late August, The New York Times published an exposé called “Airline Close Calls Happen Far More Often Than Previously Known” by Sydney Ember and Emily Steel. The story purports that near-catastrophic events in commercial aviation are increasing. The article says the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) (also known to many in the aviation industry as the NASA reporting system because for many years that program has been overseen and monitored by NASA) has reports that indicate these events have more than doubled over the past decade.

Does the NYT article get it right? Or are they fearmongering? Perhaps we are just privy to more information than in years past, creating a sense that these events are increasing? The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was quick to respond, saying in a statement, “The U.S. aviation system is the safest in the world, but one close call is one too many. The FAA and the aviation community are pursuing a goal of zero serious close calls, a commitment from the Safety Summit in March. The same approach virtually eliminated the risk of fatalities aboard U.S. commercial airlines. Since 2009, U.S. carriers have transported more than the world’s population with no fatal crashes.”

Additionally, the FAA noted that data shows runway incursions are steadily decreasing and released a statement saying the FAA will hold runway safety meetings at approximately 90 airports between now and the end of September. “Sharing information is critical to improving safety,” said Tim Arel, chief operating officer of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization. “These meetings, along with other efforts, will help us achieve our goal of zero close calls.”

Whether or not the NYT or the FAA is more correct, one thing is certain. The flying public puts their trust in the air transportation system and deserves the safest possible system within the constraints of human frailty.

To gain more clarity on this report and our commercial aviation safety record, I spoke to aviation safety expert Jeff Guzzetti. Guzzetti is a 40-year aviation safety industry veteran having held leadership positions within the FAA, the NTSB, the Office of The Inspector General – Aviation and now as head of GuARD (Guzzetti Aviation Risk Discovery) and analyst for multiple news outlets.

I asked Guzzetti if these near-catastrophic events are truly increasing. “No,” Guzzetti said emphatically. “The article even says so, by quoting FAA statistics that, after a rise in 2013, the number has gone down since 2018 to now. … Also, runway incursions are classified as A, B, C, and D, with A being the ‘near-catastrophic’ ones, B being concerning and C and D being very minor. Most Class A events involve single-engine Cessnas and Pipers, not airliners. Class A events involving airliners have not increased.”

I asked him if the NYT article get some things right and he agreed that “their facts are correct, but their cherry-picked NASA ASRS narratives and quotes from disgruntled ATC controllers do not provide a balanced or nuanced description of the current situation.” In many cases, we are privy to more information than years past, creating a sense that these events are increasing.

The article’s authors say the ATM system is “a safety net under mounting stress.” But Guzzetti stated that he thinks the aviation safety net is constantly under varying levels and types of stress and that this is nothing new. “For example, using satellite-based navigation and glass cockpits has significantly lessened the stress on the safety net over the years (compared to ADF approaches with steam gauges), but new challenges like increasing air travel, a temporary shortage of controllers and a pilot shortage have replaced that stress to some degree.”

Next, I asked Guzzetti about staffing levels in the air traffic control system. He pointed to a Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General report, “FAA Faces Controller Staffing Challenges as Air Traffic Operations Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels at Critical Facilities” that says, “The FAA has made limited efforts to ensure adequate controller staffing at critical air traffic control facilities. The agency also has yet to implement a standardized scheduling tool to optimize controller scheduling practices at these facilities, and FAA officials disagree on how to account for trainees when determining staffing numbers. As a result, the FAA continues to face staffing challenges and lacks a plan to address them, which in turn poses a risk to the continuity of air traffic operations.”

The NYT article says current and former ATC controllers said, “close calls were happening so frequently that they feared it was only a matter of time until a deadly crash occurred.” But this is purely anecdotal and Guzzetti points to the lack of hard evidence in the statement. “I don’t believe it. This statement is truly fearmongering! Did every controller they talked to say this? I doubt it,” Guzzetti said.

The article also says ASRS reports have more than doubled. But Guzzetti questions what facts the authors based this statement on. “Are they referring to all NASA reports? Or just ones from airline pilots who report near misses? Pilots notoriously over-exaggerate these types of occurrences because it is hard to accurately perceive distances and flight dynamics. The rule of thumb at the NTSB for comparing DFDR data with pilot comments was a three-to-one ratio (i.e., “we were in a 90-degree bank!” when the DFDR indicated 35 degrees),” he said.

When asked what else needs visibility in aviation safety, Guzzetti pointed to several areas including the lack of a permanent, strong, qualified FAA administrator, causing a decrease in morale, support and stability of the FAA workforce; FAA employee brain-drain due to retirements and a lack of adequate respect and incentives to recruit the next generation of inspectors and engineers; lack of an adequate budget to fund new technology; and the significant mechanic shortage.

Guzzetti had more to say, and his full comments will be included in the online content on our website and you can see them here. He will also be presenting at our Aerospace Tech Week Americas event in Atlanta on November 14-15.

Wauseon Machine Announces Consolidation of Aftermarket Services Through Merger

Wauseon Machine, Inc. (WM), a provider of automation solutions, tube forming technologies, precision machining, and fabrication, announces an increase in the capacity and capability of its Aftermarket Services through the formal consolidation of McAlister Design and Automation (MDA) and WM. This merger will streamline the process for customers to receive goods and services such as preventive maintenance, repair, training, support and spare parts for automation equipment.

In 2022, WM acquired MDA to better meet the needs of its customers by broadening its automation capabilities and geographical footprint. Automation technology is the key to industry transformation across verticals, from aerospace and defense to automotive, consumer products, food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, off road equipment, to warehousing.

To enhance and accelerate the adoption of automation for its customers, WM’s capabilities span mobile robot platforms, collaborative robots for human-robot teaming, and a range of other cutting-edge technologies. These forms of ‘flexible automation’ allow organizations to accommodate changes and repurpose automation solutions to fit ever-changing needs.

The wide-ranging benefits of flexible manufacturing include augment current labor force, maximized capacity utilization, and improved quality and accuracy. Organizations will also find that safety and ergonomics improve with flexible automation, while also allowing them to create jobs and minimize reliance on global outsourcing. Ultimately, the adoption of flexible automation also significantly increases profitability.

Are You Ready For It?

Are You Ready For It?

Artificial intelligence (AI) used in language model-based forms like ChatGPT and others as well as other forms of AI such as computer vision, natural language processing (NLP), data analytics, simulation, robotics and automation is here. Are you ready for it? Because it is ready to help you — the collective you of aviation and aerospace.

Let’s look at some of the ways AI will help and change business for the better. First, AI will provide smarter automation. AI can automate routine and repetitive tasks across industries, freeing up human workers to focus on more complex and creative endeavors. This can lead to increased productivity, cost savings and the development of new job roles that require human ingenuity, rather than those repetitive, time-consuming tasks that take up so much of each day.

AI can analyze vast amounts of data to gain insights into user preferences and behavior. This enables the delivery of personalized recommendations, tailored content, and targeted advertisements. Users can benefit from more relevant and engaging experiences across various platforms and services. More on this in a bit.

AI can optimize logistics and supply chain management, leading to more streamlined operations. With all the supply chain drama of the last several years, this is desperately needed.

In aviation and aerospace, AI will be used to improve aviation safety by analyzing large amounts of data, including flight data, maintenance records and weather patterns. Machine learning algorithms can identify potential safety risks, predict maintenance needs and optimize flight routes.

Additionally, AI can assist in detecting anomalies and potential security threats, enhancing airport security measures.

AI will be used to optimize air traffic management by analyzing real-time data on weather, airspace congestion and aircraft trajectories assisting with the long-desired, but difficult to achieve, trajectory based operations. AI algorithms will help optimize flight paths, reduce delays and improve fuel efficiency. Additionally, AI will assist air traffic controllers in managing complex airspace operations, improving overall safety and efficiency.

AI is set to revolutionize aircraft maintenance by enabling another much-discussed dream: predictive analytics. Machine learning algorithms can and are already analyzing sensor data from aircraft systems to detect anomalies and predict equipment failures. This will allow for proactive maintenance, reducing unscheduled downtime and improving operational efficiency, a goal for the maintenance industry for years.

AI-powered systems will assist pilots by providing real-time data analysis, decision support and automation of routine tasks. For example, AI algorithms can analyze weather conditions, flight parameters and aircraft performance to provide pilots with optimized flight plans and in-flight guidance. This can enhance situational awareness and decision-making capabilities.

AI can be used in the design and optimization of aircraft and spacecraft. Machine learning algorithms can help in the analysis of complex aerodynamic models, structural optimization and the exploration of novel designs. AI can assist engineers in creating more fuel-efficient and lightweight aircraft, leading to reduced emissions and improved performance.

And let’s not forget the most rapidly changing sector of aviation right now: urban air mobility. AI is playing a crucial role in the development of autonomous systems for aviation. AI is enabling these systems to navigate, sense their surroundings and make decisions without human intervention.

AI is being applied to ATC and airport systems, with the hope to enhance many tasks from training to operations. Airports are using AI and big data to optimize all sorts of processes across a full range of operations. One example is the “digital tower”, which harnesses the power of air traffic management (ATM) data and AI to enhance resilience, capacity and efficiency. One company, Searidge, has a digital tower product that is already being used in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Searidge says it has been pioneering the use of artificial intelligence in the industry for several years with its vision processing/remote tower technology. According to its website, Aimee is Searidge Technologies’ advanced neural network framework for the development of AI-based solutions for ATC and airport efficiency. That company says, “Aimee has been developed to greatly simplify the configuration and training of neural networks with large and complex data sets; to allow the continuous evaluation and testing of output, and most importantly, to predict and certify performance within a safety critical context.”

The rise of AI products also brings ethical and regulatory considerations. As AI becomes more prevalent, it is crucial to address concerns such as privacy, data security, bias and accountability. Ensuring responsible development and deployment of AI technologies will be essential in shaping the future impact of AI on society.

I should note here that AI is not anywhere near perfect, yet. I think back to the subtle but scheming HAL computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, a foreshadowing of today’s AI, and how, due to a glitch began killing humans aboard the spaceship they shared. While that is a fantastical scenario, here is a more recent and relevant one.

A lawsuit was filed by a passenger who claimed to have been injured by a drink cart on a flight on Avianca Airlines. The passenger’s lawyers asked the court to throw out the airline’s defense because it contained references to precedented cases that, upon their research of them, proved to be non-existent. How did this happen? The attorney for the airline admitted to using ChatGPT to conduct his legal research. He even asked ChatGPT if the cases referenced in its response were real, to which it replied that they were real. ChatGPT had made up the cases it referenced.

FYI, ChatGPT wrote about 90% of this piece. Send me a note if you spot any inaccuracies or made-up cases and I’ll write about that myself in the next issue.

HEICO to Acquire Wencor

HEICO announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire Wencor for $1.9 billion in cash and $150 million in HEICO Class A Common Stock.

The transaction is purported to be HEICO’s largest purchase, as well as revenues and income acquired. Reports say Wencor will become part of HEICO’s Flight Support Group.

Wencor was founded in 1955 and is a large commercial and military aircraft maker of FAA-approved aircraft replacement parts, distributor of high-use commercial and military aftermarket parts and a provider of aircraft and engine accessory component repair and overhaul services.

Wencor is based in Peachtree City, Georgia and provides its parts and services internationally, employing approximately 1,000 people in 19 facilities around the United States. HEICO currently employs approximately 9,000 Team Members at over 100 facilities worldwide. Wencor’s customers include airlines worldwide, aircraft maintenance repair and overhaul companies, military agencies and defense contractors.

Wencor’s parts and repairs are found in hydraulic, pneumatic, electronic and electro-mechanical, cockpit and galley systems throughout numerous aircraft models.

HEICO said it anticipates that Wencor will generate approximately $724 million and $153 million in revenues and EBITDA in calendar year 2023. HEICO stated that its Flight Support Group “will achieve meaningful synergies from the acquisition.”

“Our Flight Support Group has for decades provided high-quality and reliable cost-saving products and services to the commercial aircraft and defense aftermarkets,” said Laurans A. Mendelson, HEICO’s chairman and CEO, together with Eric A. Mendelson, HEICO’s co-president and CEO of its Flight Support Group. “The Wencor acquisition materially expands HEICO’s aftermarket product offerings, enabling the combined company to offer even greater savings and capabilities to its customers, while expanding our new products and services development capacity. Wencor is a perfect and highly complementary fit with HEICO. Importantly, we look forward to welcoming Wencor’s Team Members to the HEICO family and to working with Wencor’s talented leadership team led by Shawn Trogdon, who will continue to lead the business.”

Shawn Trogdon, Wencor’s CEO, added, “I am excited about the opportunity to combine HEICO and Wencor’s impressive teams who share the same culture and commitment to our customers, suppliers and employees. The unmatched combination will further accelerate growth, innovation, and development of highly reliable cost-saving solutions for our customers. I am proud of our team’s achievements to date and look forward to continuing our journey of growth with HEICO. I want to thank the Warburg Pincus team for their support and partnership that has helped enable our success.”

The parties say they anticipate transaction to be closed by the end of calendar 2023.

Jamco Corporation to Highlight Innovative Business Class Seats and Cabin of the Future at AIX 2023

Jamco Corporation will be exhibiting at AIX 2023 from June 6-8, 2013, in Hamburg, Germany, stand 6A110. On display at the Jamco stand will be its award winning “Quest for Elegance” staggered business class seat and Venture reverse herringbone business class seat. Visitors to the stand can also learn about Jamco’s vision for a cabin of the future and participate in a virtual reality experience.

Jamco’s “Quest for Elegance” staggered business class seat concept meets the demand for an inventive, spacious seat for high density business class interior cabins without compromising comfort. Featuring a new patented angled tilt monitor and an industrial design focused on providing an elegant premium hotel in the sky while maintaining competitive density, the Quest seat maximizes the passenger experience. Jamco’s Quest seat was awarded the iF DESIGN AWARD 2022, one of the most prestigious international design awards.

Jamco’s Venture reverse herringbone business class seat was designed with sustainability and comfort in mind, while minimizing operational costs for airlines. The Venture Seat is made with a high amount of recycled material, is lighter than traditional seats, is easy to install and requires less overall maintenance.

Jamco will be unveiling a video of its cabin of the future at AIX 2023. Visitors to Jamco stand 6A100, will be able to participate in a virtual reality experience of Jamco’s next generation galley and lavatory.

Airbus Continues its Growth in the US: Targets Hiring 800 Employees in 2023

Airbus plans to recruit more than 800 employees in the U.S. in 2023, including more than 500 to fill new positions, reflecting the growth of its U.S.-based operations across its Commercial Aircraft, U.S. Space & Defense and Helicopters operations.

“Airbus’ story is one of continued growth in America. After recruiting more than 1,500 employees in 2022, we are maintaining our momentum and hiring at least another 800 across the country in 2023,” said C. Jeffrey Knittel, president and CEO of Airbus Americas. “We are growing a diverse and talented team of individuals dedicated to designing and building the future of sustainable aerospace.”

Airbus has been a part of the U.S. aerospace community for more than 50 years. This new growth contributes to Airbus’ plan to hire 13,000 employees worldwide in 2023. With Airbus Canada’s announcement that it will hire more than 800 employees in 2023, the total growth in North America comes to more than 1,600.

Recruitment needs in the U.S. are varied. Roles include engineering, IT, procurement, and quality, as well as production and support team members for its A320/A220 manufacturing facilities in Mobile, Alabama, and Airbus Helicopters facilities in Texas and Mississippi among others. In addition, competencies are needed to support the company’s long-term projects and ambitions, particularly in the areas of decarbonization of the industry, such as those linked to the development of hydrogen aircraft, and on digital transformation and cyber-technology.

Approximately two-thirds of the jobs will support the company’s rapidly expanding Commercial Aircraft production activities, with the remaining third primarily supporting Airbus Helicopters and Airbus U.S. Space & Defense.

Airbus was recently awarded the “Top Employers” certification in the U.S. by the Top Employers Institute, an independent global authority that recognizes excellence in people management and human resources policies. 

The company said it will allocate one-third of its positions to young graduates and early-career professionals, and will maintain its goal to increase the number of female new hires and promotions. 

“Airbus has so many opportunities for everyone who has the skill, talent and drive to be an aviation professional, and we genuinely care for our people with various programs dedicated to develop our employees, promote safety and well-being, and foster diversity, equity and inclusion,”  said Caroline Jecko-Parkes, Head of HR for Airbus Americas. 

In the U.S., more than 4,600 people currently work at 35+ Airbus and subsidiary sites and offices across 13 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, Airbus annually spends nearly $15 billion with more than 2,000 U.S.-based suppliers in more than 40 states, supporting a further 275,000 American jobs.

Airbus offers some of the most competitive working conditions on the market, including numerous benefits and flexible working arrangements based on job requirements. 

To learn more about opportunities at Airbus in the U.S., potential candidates may visit the Airbus job platform at https://airbusgroup.applicantpro.com/jobsbyorganization/, where nearly 200 positions are currently posted.

Aerogility Adds to Team with Senior Business Analyst Appointment

Model-based AI company Aerogility is building on its ambitious growth plans with the appointment of Matthew Tootle as Senior Business Analyst.   

Tootle brings significant defense experience to the role, having spent more than 16 years at British security and aerospace company BAE Systems, working his way up from an apprentice through to manufacturing, procurement and support engineering roles. His last role at BAE Systems was a program engineering manager, where he was responsible for the integration and delivery of the support engineering products for a Middle East customer.  

As Aerogility expands its worldwide customer base, particularly across the USA, Tootle will be tasked with business development and project delivery, working alongside the product team and customers to identify opportunities to enhance the Aerogility model further. 

“Matthew has a wealth of international experience that will be of real benefit to us at Aerogility,” said Gary Vickers, CEO, Aerogility. “He has an extensive track record when it comes to building relationships with clients, understanding complex problems and working to find solutions. We’re looking forward to his support as we expand on our efforts to help clients take strategic decisions confidently by harnessing the power of AI.” 

Tootle says: “Aerogility’s digital twin capabilities are as exciting as the plans for the business, which is why it was clear to me that it was the perfect place to take my next step. My initial project will see me work across the UK and USA markets, delivering the team’s innovative model-based AI solution to enable customers to better operate, sustain and optimize platforms, services and infrastructure.” 

Is Aerospace Innovation Dead?

Is Aerospace Innovation Dead?

Does that title sound outrageous? Yes – it’s meant to spark outrage. Sometimes I hear people say that nothing really new is happening in aerospace development and innovation now. But I always beg to differ when I do hear that. Amazing and incredible things are happening in the world of aerospace technology right now. In this issue of Aerospace Tech Review, we look at some of them.

But first, let me pay tribute to one of my nostalgic favorites. During the pandemic years, Bombardier announced it was shutting down Learjet production and the last one, a Learjet 75, rolled off the assembly line in 2021, after almost 60 years of production.

More than 3,000 Learjet aircraft were produced since Bill Lear’s company delivered the first Learjet 23 in Wichita, Kansas, in 1964. Just think of this – 1903 was the Wright Brothers’ first manned powered aircraft flight and 61 years later the first Learjet came off the assembly line. A little over a year ago the final Learjet 75 was delivered to its customer.

Can any of you boast logged pilot time in a Learjet? I can. Having that time is one of my fondest memories of my time as a pilot. One year, in the course of a few weeks, I went from flight instructing in Cessna 172s to working as a night freight hauler in a Piper Seneca to right seat in a Lear 23. Heady times for a fledgling pilot.

I had recently left my time-building flight instructing job to move across the country to St. Louis, Missouri. I wandered out to Spirit of St. Louis (KSUS) airport to see if I might find flying work there.

I found a night freight and air ambulance operator there called Jet Services. They were flying the Seneca, a DC-3 and a small fleet of Learjets, Lear 23, 24 and 25 series. I immediately gave them my resume, but they were less than enthusiastic about my chances of flying for them. However, they did say they needed someone to answer phones and “dispatch” aircraft. I said I’d love to do that while I looked for flying work.

It was not more than a month later when I answered a call for a charter to Marion, Illinois, to pick up newly manufactured car parts and bring them to Detroit, Michigan, to keep an auto maker’s assembly line running. After calling all the possible pilots on the roster list, none could make it to the airport within the 30-minute time frame required to accept the charter. The owner of the company and captain of the flight said to me, “Do you have your pilot certificate on you?” He wasn’t going to miss the opportunity and I did have it. So, he put me in the right seat, we flew three times around the pattern and he said, “I’ll sign your logbook when we get back.”

An even more remarkable fact was that this was done in a Lear 23. The first takeoff was such a thrill as we accelerated on the runway, pushed back in my seat from the sheer power of that rocket-like aircraft. The 23 was truly an innovation marvel, the design based on structural quality of the Swiss AFA P-16 strike-fighter. It was a small aircraft, but incredibly powerful with GE CJ610 engines producing a combined 5,700 pounds of thrust and heralded the new age of business jet travel when it was first introduced in 1964. By the time I got in the right seat of that aircraft, it was already 20 years old – ancient in my view at the time.

And off we went to pick up those parts, climbing out at around 7000 feet per minute and reaching cruise altitude in a heartbeat. Thrilling.

Now back to innovation. I could never touch on all the innovations happening right now in aerospace in this short column. But, we do cover some of them in this issue of the publication.

So, please look for the news item in the 5X5 section about the Illinois Institute of Technology research team led by Professor David Williams, that has demonstrated the use of a novel control method in an aircraft with no tail. The tailless design is controlled by active airflow, in which jets of air are blown onto different surfaces of the aircraft body, corresponding to which direction the aircraft is moving. The technology allows an aircraft to be smooth and sleek (it reminded me immediately of the Lear 23 design). This technology could be employed to make commercial airplanes more fuel-efficient by removing existing steering parts that create lots of drag.

There is much being done in the advanced air mobility area as well as designing the airspace or “U-space” — the rules and procedures for the management of drone traffic — where these vehicles will operate. Learn about BUBBLES, a SESAR project utilizing artificial intelligence, targeting the formulation and validation of a concept of separation management for UAS, in Mario Pierobon’s story, ‘U-Space: The Journey to Integrate UAM-UAS into Airspace’ on page 16.

Check out the update on the use of hydrogen as a green fuel for aerospace. In January, a Dornier 228 aircraft equipped with a ZeroAvia hydrogen-electric engine on its left wing and a Honeywell TPE-331 stock engine on its right, flew for the first time at ZeroAvia’s R&D facility in Gloucestershire, U.K. Stunning and rapid advancements in this realm. See that story on page 48.

And a final thought about artificial intelligence (AI). We are hearing so much about AI in all realms of technology today, especially with the advancement of ChatGPT. ChatGPT is AI designed to interact in a conversational way. “The dialogue format makes it possible for ChatGPT to answer follow-up questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises, and reject inappropriate requests,” the developers say. AI is truly a powerful innovation for the ages. As with all powerful things, we must be careful how it is used. It is up to us to make sure it is used appropriately for the good of all. AI is being used in many areas of aerospace now — you will see references to its use in many of the stories in this issue.

Back to the title, innovation in aerospace is alive and well and you are on the leading edge of it.

Supernal Hires Former FAA UAS Executive Director Jay Merkle


Supernal announced the appointment of Jay Merkle as senior director of regulatory affairs. Merkle previously spent 30 years at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), most recently as executive director of the agency’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office.

“Uniting top aviation expertise is critical to Supernal’s mission of responsibly shaping and introducing the Advanced Air Mobility ecosystem,” said Jaiwon Shin, president of Hyundai Motor Group and CEO of Supernal. “Jay Merkle has tremendous depth and breadth in the industry, with a track record that emphasizes his bold vision for airspace safety and compliance. His experience – paired with that of fellow FAA veterans, including Mike Whitaker, at Supernal – will help our company integrate AAM into existing transportation networks and airspace over the coming decades.”

At the FAA, Merkle led the safe integration of drones into the National Airspace System and ensured all UAS integration activities and efforts were aligned with the agency’s overarching mission. Similarly in his new role on Supernal’s policy and regulations team, which is led by Diana Cooper, Merkle will help develop an integrated regulatory and policy framework to support AAM operations globally.

“My three decades at the FAA were focused on making our airspace more efficient, adaptable and robust – all of which are qualities that will be even more important with the introduction of a new class of aircraft,” Merkle said. “I look forward to collaborating closely with Supernal’s policy, legal, compliance and engineering teams to provide a total solution for AAM that delivers new levels of mobility while maintaining uncompromising safety standards.” 

Jay Merkle received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Central Florida and his master’s degree in industrial engineering and operations research from Virginia Tech.