Three of the most powerful leaders in the Southern California aerospace community visited Caltech’s Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Caltech Friday morning, to share their ideas, expertise and innovations with students and community members.
The Idea 2 Innovation (i2i) event series, co?presented by Innovate Pasadena and Caltech, brings industry leader to the Pasadena innovation community exchange ideas, in the hope of fostering entrepreneurship and new innovations.
For so many years, Southern California was the world’s hub for aerospace and aeronautic engineering, with Boeing, Northrup Grumman and Lockheed Martin creating a wonderland of engineers, amidst rockets to the moon, satellites, jet fighters and the latest technologies in consumer air travel.
And now, says at least one of Friday’s speakers, that time is returning in a big way.
“The aerospace industry continues to captivate us and continues to be a part of our national fabric,” said Andrea Belz, Caltech alumna and USC Marshall School of Business Entrepreneur-in-Residence, in introducing the afternoon’s talk.
Scott Fouse, VP Advanced Technology Center at Lockheed Martin, opened the discussion and introduced the company’s work in developing aircraft, saying, “It’s well known that we build the F-35 and the F-22, but we also do a lot of innovative work as well.”
Fouse added, “It’s thinking, ‘Can we actually build an aircraft without using any rivets at all?,’ for example. It’s that kind of thinking about technology.” Fouse also described a new Lockheed program, using ground-based radar that will literally “map every single item in space,” as well as the company’s research into new kinds of aeronautic and space materials.
“This space mapping is important,” he explained, “so that when we actually go to Mars, we don’t actually run into something on the way there.” Fouse also envisioned a time in perhaps the nest ten years, when it would not be unusual for airline passengers to look out their windows and see unmanned freighter aircraft going about their duties, shipping products all over the world.
“I’m from the space department,” he continued, “so I’m all about that, and we know that travel to Mars is a trending subject these days, but for us, it’s been a trending subject for 25 years.”
Like the other major aerospace companies, Lockheed has also translated its apce work into other fields. It isn’t all about the sky.
As Fouse described, Lockheed recently took its algorithm research into missile detection, and found that it could be applied to a medical problem of early identification of infections that is “actually having a major impact in saving lives.”
John Tracy, chief technology officer for Boeing, also introduced the latest innovations at his company, and added, “Boeing is more than just building airplanes, though. This is our 100th year of existence, and our revenue will approach $100 billion in the next year, we have a backlog of product about half a trillion dollars, so our customers are feeling good about what we have developed.”
The company has developed a host of aircraft, including commercial jetliners from the 727 to the 787, along with military helicopters from the Apache to the Chinook, as well as fighter planes.
But its their satellites that are having a huge everyday impact on the world.
“If you’re using GPS, it’s a good chance it’s coming from a Boeing satellite,” he said, with Direct TV and SiriusXM Radio, among the many companies using their systems.
“And the secret to all of that is innovation,” said Tracy. “Innovation based on technology. Our company only differentiates itself if we come up with products that are different from the others, and those products create value for our customers.”
Erik Antonsson, Northrop Grumman’s Corporate Director of Technology, like his panel colleagues, also emphasized the company’s long history in aviation and technology, and added that “Aerospace is at a tremendously exciting time right now. There are so many changes that are happening around us, this is a very dynamic time. We are bursting with innovation and change and technical challenges.” He also showed two dramatic videos which emphasized the company’s achievements and its “next big things of the next big things.”
Vandad Espahbodi, co-founder of Starburst Accelerator, a company which pairs tech startups with investors and acquisition experts, cited a number of huge tech companies which began as small startups, and have since grown to gargantuan proportions (Uber, one of his examples, is now worth $50 billion).
“These are the companies that are hiring the next generation of engineers,” said Espahbodi, who spent 15 years, as he described it, “taking these fantastic and phenomenal technologies and selling them to foreign governments all around the world, and basically helping to shape our foreign policies with those countries.”
He continued. “I’m a big believer in the idea that entrepreneurs and startups have the means to truly bring about change, and we believe that the timing is now for that revolution.” Espahbodi explained to the young students and others gathered that the aerospace industry is becoming “more and more open-minded and more creative in wanting to make things work, and in helping you succeed with your small business and your idea.”
Starburst helped facilitate the introductions of over 150 startups to investors and companies in Europe, and brought the idea to the US about six months ago, he explained.
“When we asked where to set up shop, everyone told us ‘Southern California,’” he said. “Since then, Boeing, Northrop, and Lockheed have helped us facilitate all of this.” Starburst has since iddentifed a pre-selected group of start-ups to begin working with its corporate partners, and strongly encouraged students and entrepreneurs to “get acquainted,” saying, “If you’ve got an idea right now, come talk to me after the panel.”
Espahbodi’s plea spoke to the main challenges voiced by each of the panelists—finding talent, talent and talent.
As Boeing’s Tracy explained, “I think during the heyday of the Apollo missions, the average engineer was 27. These days they’re about 45, so we’re looking for the next generation of engineers right now.”
They came to the right place.