News & Resources

rss feed


Innovation in Aerospace

Posted by Tor Hough on 03 Mar 2010

I had the opportunity to see a talk given by Mr. Frank Cappuccio, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works.  His talk was titled: “Trends in Technology and Innovation in Aerospace”.  It was given as part of a two day Aviation and Aerospace Industry Manufacturing Summit sponsored by the Center for Aviation and Aerospace Leadership (CAAL) at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.  Mr. Cappuccio’s offered interesting insights into issues related to innovation at one of our country’s leading Aviation and Aerospace design and manufacturing firms.   The subject matter was so close to home that I found it difficult to take the time required to take my normal narrative notes.  The following are the highlights as best I remember them:


Embrace failure.  If you don’t fail occasionally you aren’t reaching far enough.  Fail quickly and learn from it.  Managers must not punish the failure of subordinates.  In fact, good managers will protect those beneath them from the wrath of those above.   This one principle is of incalculable value to anyone pushing the accepted limits in almost any endeavor.   Holding on too long and refusing to admit defeat is a sin I’ve committed time and again in my own career.  I’m reminded of the advice for people caught in a rip tide.  Swim parallel to shore until you are out of the current and then turn back in.  Simple advise and yet every year seemingly healthy and intelligent people are killed when overcome by exhaustion while swimming against the tide.


Some, perhaps not all, of our youth are lazy.  (Yes I know, this is a shocking revelation!  Take time to collect yourself if you must.)  There is a generation of young professionals that were educated in a very different way than their predecessors.  It can be argued that most don’t really get idea of hard work.  Why should they, they’ve been getting trophies for participation since birth and been conditioned to know that even mediocre performance will be rewarded.  I’m sure there are many other compounding factors but the basic point holds water.  I’ve never heard of a great inventor being described as lazy or as possessing an over-abundant sense of entitlement.


World-wide, there are dramatically fewer Aerospace and Defense engineering programs than in earlier times.  This is a particular challenge to engineers who are beginning their careers.   Young engineers simply don’t have the experience or opportunities available to their predecessors.  Where engineers that began their careers in the 50s, 60s and 70s might have participated in a dozen programs, an engineer today may contribute significantly to two or three at most.


The amazing variety of modeling tools available to the working engineer has weakened their basic senses.  As one senior engineer puts it, “they’ve lost the feel”.  Simulation and modeling are well and good but they can’t replace an intuitive sense of design.  These tools are the embodiment of the current way of doing things.  By their very nature, they get in the way of intuitive leaps that are the very soul of innovation.


I’m sure there was more but time and distance has robbed me of clarity.  I would go out of my way to hear Mr. Cappuccio give this talk again.  Cheers to CAAL for putting on an excellent program!

280 Mill Street Suite A
Rochester, Michigan 48307