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2000 Speeches
David Swain

David Swain

The Boeing Company

"What If?"

AIAA Fluid 2000 Conference

Denver, Colorado

June 21, 2000

Thank you, Peter.

First, I want to thank you for inviting me. It's great to celebrate almost a century of progress since the Wright Brothers' first powered flight at Kitty Hawk. It's also great to share my views on our achievements since then and a perspective on our future.

What I want to do today is talk about how far we've come as an industry, how we can leverage that for our future, and how we have great opportunity to lead. Then I'd like to take your questions and get some dialog going.

First premise: We have come far as an industry. In 1900, Wilbur Wright said, "It is my belief that flight is possible and while I am taking up the investigation for pleasure rather than profit, I think there is a slight possibility of achieving fame and fortune from it." Thanks to Orville and Wilbur, we are part of a great industry that has made a huge difference in the 20th century. We have gone from a few entrepreneurs who became enamored with flying, to a few engineers who dreamt of designing great airplanes, to a few mechanics who dreamed of building great flying products, to one of, if not the most, complex industries on our planet. We are about dreams, about leadership, and about complex thought. Relatively speaking, we have achieved greatness in such a short span of time, and our industry looks significantly different since Bill Boeing started eight decades ago.

We have seen great change, not only at Boeing, but also in our industry. We have gone from the novelty of flying just a few people, to being part of defense in World War I, to carrying mail, to carrying more passengers.

With the marriage of jet engines and swept-wing technology in 1947, we made huge leaps in speed and altitude. And after World War II, we made tremendous strides in technology and aerodynamic design to make trips longer and more efficient. Then deregulation came along, and there was a shift. Emphasis was more on cost, which resulted in lower passenger fares and greater access for many.

We graduated from the Jet Age to the Space Age in 1957 when the Soviet Union sent Sputnik, the first artificial earth satellite, into orbit. But we would not be left behind, and our country met the call and landed astronauts on the moon 12 years later. With the end of the Cold War, our need to compete for higher, faster, better changed.

We have other metrics too. Let me give you a few more examples of how we have changed.

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh, with his single-seat monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, set an aviation milestone by solo-flying the Atlantic from New York to Paris in about 33 hours with about 450 gallons of fuel. In 2000, a six-story-high Boeing jet uses thousands of gallons of fuel to fly a few hundred people in a few hours from New York to Paris while they work on laptops, watch a movie, or sleep.

My father owned a farm in Indiana, and in 1912 drove his horse and wagon 22 miles to buy goods and sell his animals at market. That trip was a two-day event away from home. Today, my seven grandchildren are seasoned air travelers and have flown thousands of miles from home. Commercial flight, as we know it, has changed the world and continues to bring us more and faster access.

Our nation's defense has changed also. World War I, started in 1914, was a four-year war fought on the ground with a good number of casualties, and World War II went from 1939 to 1945 and was fought both on the ground and in the air. Contrast that with Desert Storm, which literally lasted from mid-January to March 3, 1991. It was fought in the air with a handful of casualties.

Space has also seen great change. When Sputnik was launched, I was in high school in Indiana. While I didn't realize the significance then, it did impact my life because a recruiter came to our school to talk about a need for engineers to join a good profession. It was an "attention-getter." It got me to think about the adventure of space exploration and pursuing an engineering degree, so, I went off to Purdue to study, and that eventually led me to Boeing. Today, 335 satellites pass overhead, and they were launched into orbit with Boeing vehicles.

We have gone from putting people on the moon in 1969 to Space Shuttle Endeavour astronauts mapping almost 80 percent of the Earth with a radar laboratory earlier this year. They filled 330 digital cassettes - enough radar imagery to fill more than 20,000 compact disks, according to NASA. We have witnessed a lot of change. We are an industry that has gone from first powered flight to working in space - what a great century of progress.

Second premise: We can leverage that for our future. I believe we need to transition this same energy, knowledge, and zeal from the 20th century to the 21st century. There is little room to grow higher, faster, farther that doesn't translate into a dead end. There are huge challenges and problems to solve in our industry, and with the rapid rate of change happening in the world, we have an opportunity to embrace the future and adapt by working differently.

Let's envision what our future might look like for aerospace. In commercial aviation, we will see dramatic change in countries such as China and India. We will witness the same dramatic increase in air travel as we have seen in the United States over the last 100 years. It won't be long before all the people in China have access to travel within and out of their country. So think about how airport runways could eliminate the need to build an expensive infrastructure of highways, bridges, and tunnels. Think what this means to air traffic, airports, air infrastructure, and global positioning satellites for more direct routes.

Air cargo delivery will grow, too, as people buy "anything, anywhere, anytime" online and have goods delivered directly to home and office 24 hours a day.

On the defense front, we will see defense forces used for humanitarian missions and to keep the peace. Because we will have an integrated world economy, information warfare will be a real threat, and we will need protection from information attacks.

On the space side, once the International Space Station is assembled, there will be a venue for world-class, space-based scientific experiment and research. Pressurized living and working space that is greater than the volume of the passenger cabin and cargo hold of a 747-400 (46,000 cubic feet) will be home for engineers and scientists who live there. They will even have their own windows to observe earth.

All this holds great promise for civilian space travel and tourism as the Space Age comes into its own right. There are many other scenarios but those are just a few examples of what the 21st century might bring.

We also need to acknowledge that the accelerating pace of change on our planet is creating a global community. The Information Revolution is allowing us to radically change, just as the Industrial Revolution took us from an Agricultural Age. We will forever be different as cities, countries, and continents.

Technology is changing what we do and how we do it. For example, soon travelers anywhere on the ground, air, or sea will be able to stay "virtually" connected all the time. Advances in information technology are allowing drastic cuts in transaction costs too. So, we have to ask ourselves, "How do we look as an industry in a world?" Easy answer … dramatically different.

At Boeing, we can now design an airplane in St. Louis, Seattle, and England, and have the pieces fit together and assembled in Palmdale, California. Glass fiber carries the billions of bytes of data from one site to another and allows us to work in many different places. We work differently too. We used design/build teams on the Boeing 777, and that idea grew and was adapted into Independent Product Teams (IPT) for other Boeing programs. We also continue to adapt at our Phantom Works.

Now, if we believe that our industry has come far, and if we believe that we can leverage that for our future, we might conclude that we have great opportunity to grow even more. To begin, I believe we must recognize a few key things: the complexity of our industry, what it takes to work in this industry, what great position that gives us, and how we can leverage our history and expertise by integrating for future growth.

First, the complexity of our industry. Aerospace is probably the most complex business in the world today and employs some of the brightest people on the planet. People who work in our industry hold bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees, sometimes in more than one discipline. We carry an array of titles … from fellows and technical fellows to researchers and scientists, from managers and directors to professors and associate professors. We have degrees, experience, and expertise in chemistry and chemical engineering; electrical, mechanical, aerospace, nuclear, and manufacturing engineering; physics, math and modeling, computing, and standards; business, applied mechanics, materials science, and R&D; information technology, industrial engineering, and communication, among others. We have a lot of "coordinates" and individually and collectively carry a lot of knowledge. We need to recognize and acknowledge this.

Second, what it takes to work in this industry. It takes a lot of intelligence, a lot of education, and a lot of stamina. Who else has studied Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein? Who else understands the works, theories and principles of da Vinci, Langley, Doppler, Lilienthal, von Zeppelin, Von Karman or Von Braun, among others? Who else understands what happens between velocity and gravity at thousands of miles above the equator? Who else knows how to integrate systems that put 1.5 billion people into airplanes in 1998? Who else works on the technologies of the future? Who else introduced artificial intelligence, integrated systems, virtual reality, and Velcro?

I ask you, who else could design an air route system that began with beacons on hilltops, to radio aids, to high-frequency measuring equipment? Build a world air fleet of 13,000 jets in 45 years and double it in 16 years? Put people on the moon? Build a product for the Blue Angels to fly? Design and build jet airplanes that have 3 million parts, with 2,885 pieces of tubing, 1,300 wire bundles, and 14 tires, and uses 31,000 gallons of fuel? Allow 3 million passengers to travel daily to nearly every country on earth aboard 42,300 flights on Boeing jetliners? Leverage global aerospace leadership into e-commerce because of online delivery systems established long ago? Who else but many of you in this room? We need to recognize and acknowledge this.

Third, this gives us a great position. We have a rich heritage and a great knowledge base to solve challenges in our industry. And we need to take advantage of our position as leaders in a complex industry and as people with advanced education. We must ask ourselves, how do we as a community of engineers, scientists, researchers, program managers, professors, and experts in fluid dynamics transition from the old economy to the new global market economy? What picture of our future should we model to make a reality? What ingredients do we need? How do we measure our progress? How do we know we have succeeded? How can we learn from our mistakes? How can we lead as our ancestors did and drive change? We need to recognize and acknowledge this.

Fourth and final, how do we leverage all of this to grow in the 21st century? One word, "Integration," with a capital "I." Integration is one of the secret ingredients to our future success. We need to start by integrating more of our disciplines. For example, we need to work together more and collaborate in multidisciplinary teams. This will allow us to take advantage of the intellectual power and find the best solutions.

Let me share another story. I need you to travel back in time with me. The place is Dayton, Ohio. The date is October 21, 1948. A conference room at Wright Field. A Boeing team from Seattle, headed by George Schairer, has just arrived to meet with an Air Force review officer about plans for a bigger, longer-legged, faster bomber that General Curtis LeMay - the head of the Strategic Air Command - wants. Well, the Boeing delegation - armed with a proposal for a straight-wing, propjet bomber with counterrotating props - might as well have brought plans for a biplane bomber! What they didn't know is that the review officer had separately consulted with a scientific advisor, who recommended that Boeing continue with the design of a bigger sweptwing pure jet bomber - not a turboprop. Upon review, the officer denounced the Boeing proposal and said, "If you stick to that design, I'm going back to the Pentagon and recommend that the Air Force reject it." Well, the team would not go away defeated. Instead, Schairer, Art Carlsen of Production, and aerodynamicist Vaughn Blumenthal returned to temporary headquarters at the Van Cleve hotel to solve the challenge. They adapted.

Their boss, Ed Wells, left Seattle to go to Dayton, and two other Boeing employees who were in Dayton for other business were drafted into action on the spot. They would work the weekend to create the business model to complete their mission: "Work together to create a new model." The team became very resourceful. Schairer bought balsa wood, glue, and a knife at the local hobby shop. When Wells arrived, they all lent their expertise. They fashioned a swept-wing bomber model with engine nacelles carved from drawings that were created by pencil and ruler.

At a meeting the following Monday, the Air Force review officer, a colonel, told the team "to forget about" an airplane they already were designing, the B-55, in favor of the new model they had just brought in, the B-52. That airplane still holds staying power for the Air Force almost 50 years later. This is a great lesson on Integration with a capital "I" … integration of knowledge and expertise to win. It can pay off big time, as this small story illustrates.

Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem, "If," in 1910. I say we write the chapter, "What if," in 2000 and then do it. What if we started to imagine ways to integrate technology outside of our industry into our products to become more efficient? What if we took advantage of the Information Revolution and learned to work new ways? What if we met the challenge by finding technologies already out there, and applying them to our systems by prototyping and validating? What if we recognized that aerospace is the most complex business in the world today? What if we tapped the elements of science, math, engineering, business, information technology, and communications, among other skills, to do whatever we want? What if we leveraged our heritage, knowledge, and expertise by integrating our disciplines more right now? What if we learned from da Vinci, Newton, the Wright Brothers, Lindbergh, Schairer, and Wells? What if we ask who else can do it in the 21st century?

Now let me wrap this up. It's great to celebrate that we have come so far as an industry in almost 100 years. I believe the Wright Brothers' upcoming anniversary of first powered flight gives us a unique opportunity to pause, to reflect, and to look in our rearview mirror. But more importantly, to give us courage and conviction to embrace change and take the future as ours, because we have a lot to accomplish yet. This conference provides a steppingstone to make that transition. Here we have a chance to step away from daily routines, to place accomplishments within a larger context, and to put life and our amazing industry in perspective. If we paint a "what if" picture and honor it, it will be the greatest tribute we could make to our aviation past.

We must remember that the aerospace work we do has a significant impact on the day-to-day lives of so many people on this planet. We can't forget that!

We must remember that few industries give the kind of opportunity or the kind of satisfaction that I have just talked about today. We can't forget that!

We must remember that our first century of powered flight is our blank canvas, our foundation, to make the next leg of the journey. We can't forget that!

In the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci led the way with "what ifs." We can learn from that and honor the future by doing some incredible work by working together. And if we allow ourselves to embrace the future and what wonders it will bring, our grandchildren's children can benefit just as much as you and I in this room.

I challenge you to join me and lead that effort so we reach far into the 21st century.