The Path Forward
Aerospace must be sustainable, autonomous, producible and digital
By Greg Hyslop, Chief Engineer
As I finish my 41-year career at Boeing, this is my final post as publisher of Innovation Quarterly. It’s an appropriate space to look back on what has changed over the decades, to consider what will remain the same and to look forward to the future of our industry.
Last year in IQ, I named the four greatest developments I’ve seen during my career: the advent of GPS, the first steps of autonomous flight, the rapid increase in computing power and the widespread use of carbon-fiber composites.
While significant, these comprise only the first chapter in the future of aerospace. Capabilities in sustainability, autonomy, producibility and the digital transformation will continue to advance. Our curiosity — inspired by our social responsibility — will be the driving force in our industry.
Aerospace has always presented the toughest challenges in engineering, and this will remain the same. That’s because there’s no margin for error in our work. Flying has to be safe for everyone, from global travelers to astronauts exploring space to those who defend freedom.
Solid systems engineering has been and will remain the foundation for how big problems are solved in aerospace. Breaking complex problems into smaller, more tractable ones and understanding the interfaces that connect the solutions is — and always will be — how successful product development is done.
The digital transformation underway and the complex models that will support it will provide an even greater ability to conduct trades and optimize solutions earlier in the product development life cycle. The challenge will be the precision of answers versus the accuracy of those answers. The digital transformation will never replace good engineering judgment.
Our future will be one in which flying is a more common means of transportation, so we must continue the pursuit of safer ways to fly. Urbanization of the global population will continue, and the terrestrial infrastructure will not keep up with demand. Moving people and goods with safe, efficient, autonomous aircraft will be the answer.
As I sign off for IQ for the last time, I still believe what I wrote in the first edition in 2016: IQ is about the most important element in this enterprise — the people who make the future happen. From my first days as an entry-level engineer to my final role as chief engineer, I’ve had the honor of working in an industry with people who change the world. I know the future of aerospace is bright, and it’s in good hands.
Discover more in the new Innovation Quarterly.