The President of the Society provides leadership of the Council and of the Society in pursuit of its Objectives. The President holds a pivotal role at the Society upholding the values, and reputation of the Society as well as the interests of the members. The President is an Ambassador of the Society representing us at key engagements, influencing the global standing of the Society in furthering the advancement of aeronautical art, science and engineering.
'High achievers' is a good way of describing the speakers at our Innovation Conferences at the end of November "
Prof Chris Atkin CEng FRAeS
President's Message: January 2017
A Happy New Year to all; interesting times lie ahead in 2017; strap yourself in! May I start by proposing a New Year’s resolution for your membership of the Society? This is to participate in the Society’s Honours, Medals and Awards scheme. Nominations close in March but it takes time to put together a strong case. It is an important function of a learned Society to offer recognition to high achievers, and identifying these individuals and teams is a key role for our member network. I’ll also add a reminder that nominations for the 2017 Council elections close at the end of January.
‘High achievers’ is a good way of describing the speakers at our innovation conferences at the end of November. In September I questioned whether the modern risk environment had adversely affected our industry’s aspiration and ability to innovate. The succinct answer, perhaps the expected one, is that evidence of ongoing innovation is clear if one looks in the right places. Nonetheless, those who wonder why all modern transport aircraft look the same were given some thought-provoking answers regarding barriers to ‘disruptive’ change.
What are the essential environmental factors for successful innovation? Investment in R&D attracted the most hits (hooray); support from an infl uential sponsor (someone, other than you, who believes in your idea); for larger organisations, appropriate corporate governance, meaning the right balance between control and freedom (for both employees and suppliers). Much of the discussion highlighted that innovations in process, product strategy and business model have delivered as much, if not greater, impact as technological innovation. Related themes were the need to match capability and level of maturity to customer needs, balancing the ‘right’ answer against the ‘quick answer’ and the optimised solution against the versatile solution. A key message was that ‘innovation is not linear’, in the sense that there is not always a simple chronology linking technology development and its adoption.
The point was made more than once that ownership of IP is not a pre-requisite to its exploitation. Today’s collaborative environment means that OEMs can exploit new ideas from the supply chain very rapidly, while the (generally) shortening time to market means that it is vital for OEMs to capture innovations offered by the supply chain, or else lose them to a competitor.
This is surely good news for those entering the industry today, that the ‘not invented here’ sentiment is on the way out, and that collaboration has increased the opportunities for innovation to be delivered throughout the supply chain. Of course we aren’t quite ready yet to dispense with the IP lawyers!
Unsurprisingly the management of information and use of intelligent systems were key areas of discussion. There is no doubt that this is where the most tangible transformations are taking place but with a subtly different emphasis from the fully-autonomous systems being touted in other areas of transportation. We instead heard about developments and further opportunities, aimed at improving situational awareness and supporting correct decision-making by the human-in-the-loop.
I mentioned lead times just now: although these are reducing with technology-driven advances in design and manufacture processes, aerospace innovations still require a greater level of maturity, prior to entry into service than in many other sectors. Weekly bug-fi x releases might be work for the consumer software industry but not
for safety-critical systems. Indeed the ‘good old days’ of innovation in aerospace, with which the modern pace of development is often unfavourably compared, were marred by fatalities and nearmisses which could not be countenanced today.
Nevertheless, today’s regulatory regime was cited as unnecessarily (and unintentionally) hindering process innovations, such as additive manufacturing, or indeed emerging platforms, such as UAS and the hybrid air vehicle. Encouragingly, the FAA was able to report that it is already responding to this challenge by adopting a risk-based, rather than prescriptive, approach to regulation.
The conference discussed the role of demonstrators in increasing technology readiness and to reduce risk. These, in the words of NASA’s Hugh Dryden, “separate the real from the imagined”. Another very important aspect of these programmes is, of course, their ability to inspire the next generation.
Finally, a less-anticipated point which we can all ponder: the barrier to innovation presented by conservative thinking in the marketplace, whether scepticism of radical new transport confi gurations, or the negative perceptions of commercial UAS being encouraged by much of the media, or simply resistance to change. Unsubstantiated opposition to new ideas is something I have found hugely frustrating in my career in R&D; this is something which we, as members of a learned society, should certainly challenge in our industry.
Prof Chris Atkin CEng FRAeS
The President's Biography
Chris Atkin was educated at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, and St John’s College, Cambridge. He read Engineering as an undergraduate, winning the Royal Aeronautical Society prize in 1986, and then studied for a PhD in transonic aerodynamics. In 1991 Chris joined British Aerospace Commercial Aircraft Ltd at Hatfield to work on boundary layer control. Chris relocated to BAe Woodford a year later, before joining the Defence Research Agency at Farnborough in 1994 where he continued to work on aircraft drag reduction in support of both industry and the Ministry of Defence. Chris was promoted to PSO in 1997 and, following the formation of QinetiQ plc, became a QinetiQ Fellow in 2003, eventually being appointed Technical Manager for Aerodynamics and Aeromechanical Systems. After a spell at QinetiQ Bedford, in 2008 Chris took up the chair in Aeronautical Engineering at City University London and, over the next five years, served first as department head and then Head of School, during which appointment he co-ordinated significant investment in the University’s engineering laboratory and workshop facilities. Returning to a more traditional academic role in 2013, Chris continues to focus his research on aircraft efficiency, with support from UK industry, the Aerospace Technology Institute, the UK Research Councils and the European Union. Chris has been a member of numerous national committees over the years and is presently a member of the Aerospace Growth Partnership Strategy Working Group. Chris attended his first lecture at the RAeS in his early teens and has been a Fellow of the Society since 2002. Chris was first elected to Council in 2010, helped to re-shape the governance of the Society in 2011 and was chair of the Professional Standards Board from 2012-2015. Chris has also served on the Registration Standards Committee of the Engineering Council, contributing to the recent review of UK-SPEC. Chris supports the Bedford branch of the Society.