Aerospace panel discusses the importance of advancing technology

Photograph by Linda KC Reynolds

Mojave Air and Space Port hosted an aeronautics forum billed as a field hearing for the house Committee on Science, Space and Technology, where leaders from public and private sector flight experimentation programs discussed the state of American aeronautics research, development and test & evaluation programs. 

The panelists included California Congressman Steve Knight; Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology; David McBride, director, Armstrong Flight Research Center, NASA; Craig Johnston, director, Aeronautics Strategy and Business Development, Skunk Works, Lockheed Martin; and Maj. Gen. Curtis M. Bedke, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), senior non-resident fellow, Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Putting context to the purpose of the forum and the importance of the “Aerospace Valley,” moderator Stuart Witt, former CEO of the Mojave Air and Space Port, said that 120 years ago the average human moved across the face of the earth at the speed of their feet. “That had not changed in 50,000 years. In a mere 50 years we have managed to increase that rate 200 mph and in 75 years, point 8-2 Mach, where it has remained stagnant for 50 years.”

Witt said that it is time to accelerate aviation culture through policy and funding in a combined effort of industry and government.

“Our nation deserves, demands and expects nothing else. It’s time to move boldly and achieve enormous advances as we did in the 1950s and 1960s through the X- plane experience.” He humorously stated that the most unsafe thing you can do today is to cross the street while looking at your cell phone.

H.R. 5466 is a bill authored and introduced by Knight to advance the Aeronautics Innovation Act and establishes long-term goals promoting interagency cooperation, directing Congress to commit to funding the necessary programs.

“Funding has to go beyond the administrations in office,” said Knight, who also sits on three armed service committees. He is also passionate about promoting STEM programs that will inspire students to pursue higher education in technology.

“Mojave is not in Mr. Knight’s district but every single piece of legislation passed and signed by the governor on my watch, is because of Steve Knight,” said Witt, who is known internationally for inspiring private aerospace companies to take risks for the advancement of space travel and encouraging cutting edge technology. He also helped turn the space port into a billion dollar industry.

“Clearly this is the aerospace center of the world,” stated Smith who is part of a committee that creates policy and oversite with a budget of $40 billion and last visited Mojave two years ago. “The atmosphere here is so conducive to being inspired.” He said that America and the world is going is going to benefit from the advances happening at the space port.

Besides advancing technology, aerospace has a tremendous economic impact of $1.5 trillion to the nation’s economy and 12 million jobs.

The first country and companies that develop, build and sell supersonic aircraft are going to own the market and the jobs, explained McBride.

Lockheed Martin and four other companies have a contract from NASA to design a supersonic passenger aircraft. Flying from Los Angeles to New York would take approximately two hours compared to 4.5.

The panel agreed that going with a cheaper contractor is not always better, and when things are not working out as planned, the government may have to end a contract with an aerospace company — yet, also, the government must remember that flight test is a learning curve. “Industry becomes risk adverse when there are fears that any mistake will end funding for a research program,” said Johnson.

When it came time for audience comments, Dr. Greg Autry, co-author, of Death by China and assistant business professor at USC, said that NASA’s budget is a national embarrassment, because it represents less than 1 percent of our total budget.

“The investment in science research, aircraft and space in particular, delivers more economic returns than expenditures and insures our national security,” he said. “Our spending on the future pales in comparison to what we are spending on our past as entitlement programs consume our nation.

“We own this to future Americans,” explained Autry, who also serves on the board of the American Jobs Alliance and as senior economist with the Coalition for a Prosperous America, a non-profit organizations dedicated to restoring America’s strength through trade reform and practical industrial policy. He is also a writer who contributes to Forbes and other magazines.