July 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 3 
Special Features

Real-world solutions

Kim Michel, a 23-year aerospace industry veteran, is leading Advanced Unmanned Systems into new territory


Real-world solutionsKim Michel relishes high-risk challenges in any form-whether they involve workplace strategies to maximize efficiency or advanced products that could save coalition lives in Iraq.

Ever since she was introduced to Homer Hickam's book Rocket Boys, later turned into the feel-good movie October Sky, Michel has been acutely aware of how the scientific principle of entropy-the natural tendency for energy to travel in all directions leading to an inevitable state of disorder-applies to workplace situations.

"An understanding of entropy tells us that success doesn't just happen," said Michel, general manager for Phantom Works' Advanced Unmanned Systems. "We have to capture, control and focus our activities to achieve success."

That awareness has enabled her to redirect the potentially chaotic energy of entropy into building solutions. The daughter of a chemical engineer, she has two sisters who are railroad engineers and managers in the railroad industry. All three grew up enjoying math and science in an era without personal home computers or even a field called computer science.

Those skills and knowledge have come in handy for Michel. She and her Boeing team have mastered the ability to generate powerful synergy from small, seemingly disconnected pieces of a puzzle.

The products her team has developed could spell the difference between life and death. Some casualties that occurred during Operation Iraqi Freedom, for example, caused by communications blackouts, could be prevented by the advanced capabilities of ScanEagle, Boeing's long-endurance autonomous aircraft. ScanEagle will be able to loiter for long periods, to ensure continuous contact between troops and to obtain surveillance information.

"Throughout the company, there are teams working on autonomous products," says Michel. "Our challenge is to find a way to get maximum value from those efforts. We always place great emphasis on eliminating wasted time and cost. We also should not waste a single ounce of effort."

That's just one example of the kind of careful thought and strategy that Michel, an experienced electrical engineer, has applied over the years to help cross-discipline teams find the solutions to what seem to be unresolvable challenges.

She recognizes that the keen visionary skills and the engineering, marketing and team-building skills she used to transform several military projects and programs will be needed now for this her most important assignment.

With the exception of the transitioned J-UCAS program, which, as part of Integrated Defense Systems, is flight-testing the X-45A and developing the X-45C, Michel's organization is responsible for just about all other unmanned efforts at Boeing.

Michel is charged with creating and capturing new business opportunities across the unmanned systems domestic and international markets. Her team is looking at a long-endurance geostationery vehicle, for example, that can loiter at 60,000 feet and provide communications and surveillance for up to a month.

Some of the Advanced Unmanned Systems products are concepts waiting for development and customers. Others are waiting to be discovered. Michel is first setting out to answer some essential questions. "We have the technology, but now we need the mission management architecture," she says. "We have to find ways to safely integrate unmanned air vehicles with other aircraft in our air space, to determine how our products have application for the military, homeland security, and border patrol, or if they have international potential. How do we make sure that Boeing is an essential player in what promises to be an expanding market that will reach phenomenal levels in the years ahead? Are we in a position to manage the growth in this area?"

Constantly searching for good order, she is never far from the topic of entropy.

"I'm in an industry where there could be a lot of it," she said. "You can't just set things in place and let go. You have to stay on top of the situation."


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