O'BAMA'S NATIONAL DEFENSE CUTS
Jim Albaugh Warns of "Intellectual
Disarmament" at NAA Luncheon
Jim Albaugh is concerned.
As the Executive Vice President of The Boeing Company and President and Chief Executive Officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, he is seeing what he calls the "intellectual disarmament of our country."
"Aerospace really defined the 20th century," he recalled, speaking at the July 2011 NAA Luncheon. "Look at Neil Armstrong - he changed the way people look at the world around them."
Today, however, Albaugh sees many people at Boeing who joined the company during the space race and will retire in the near future. "You know, about half of Boeing's engineers will be able to retire by 2015. When they leave, they will take a lot of knowledge with them," he warned, seeing his company's predicament as just one example of a larger slowdown in aerospace development that could rob the nation of its top engineering talent.
Jim Albaugh wants to inspire young people to enter aerospace engineering.
"For the first time in a long time the government is not building any new development airplanes," said Albaugh, who previously led Boeing Integrated Defense Systems. "We don't want them to build things they don't need, but without any new starts and projects to keep small teams together so their skills don't go away, we will be in trouble. It would be a real travesty if we lose the knowledge that has kept the world free. Once you lose it, it is very hard to get back."
He recently watched the final launch of the Space Shuttle, which he called "the most devastating day of my career. Parking the Space Shuttle marks the end of 60 years of hard work. Tens of thousands of engineers will retire or go into other industries and be lost forever.
"It puts our country at risk - we could lose the advantage in aerospace we have enjoyed. We have 800,000 people working in a $2 trillion industry and that could be in jeopardy.
"We have no mission, no dream, and no leadership. Even when the Russians cut their budget they preserved their space program. When government cuts the budget they need to take a hard look at the industrial base - they may find that we don't have the people anymore to do things that are needed.
"I fear that we are in a downward self-perpetuating spiral and we can't sustain ourselves as an aerospace leader."
To recover, he sees the need to come up with the same type of inspiration that happened in 1969 with the moon landing to get young people interested in aerospace engineering.
"The Russians, Indians, and Chinese - some of them will be very successful," he predicted, citing the development of the Chinese J20 stealth fighter aircraft. "I see that as a new competitor in the defense marketplace rather than a security threat.
"Are we going to seize these challenges and retain our dominance in aerospace or give that mantle to some other country? We have a history of rising up to meet these challenges."
Despite the challenges, Albaugh is proud of the commercial airplanes that Boeing is producing, especially the new 787 Dreamliner. He described December 15, 2009 - the day of the first flight of the Dreamliner - as one of "concern, apprehension, and then great pride when it took off. It really changed the way airplanes are built."
Addressing this issue of the delay in completing the Dreamliner, Albaugh quipped, "When customers fly the 787 they will forgive us for the delay."
During the production of the 787, he said he "gained an appreciation of how hard it is to build complex airplanes at a rapid rate - it is very challenging to do." Nevertheless, Boeing announced earlier this summer that it plans to boost the production rate of its 737 airplanes to 42 per month and Albaugh believes "we will stay there for a while" due to strong demand.
Looking to the future, he also predicted that "supersonic travel will happen - it's just a matter of when. New materials that can change shape in flight will improve aerodynamic performance." Albaugh also noted the Boeing, like other aircraft companies, is experimenting with biofuels and sees them making a big difference in the industry.
"It's going to take investment and innovation - if we don't do it some other country will," he said.