Women in Aviation: The future of flight

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Hundreds of aviators from around the world have descended upon Reno, Nevada, for the 2011 Women in Aviation, International Conference . Pilots, mechanics, engineers and aviation enthusiasts alike are all taking part in this year’s conference devoted to the themes “Inspire, Enthuse, Innovate.” Today we bring you the last of our daily updates from the conference, as Coast Guard aviators share their stories with those in the aviation field and learn from those with whom they share the skies.

This year marks the Centennial of Naval Aviation. Over the last century, we’ve seen quantum leaps in flight – from the first jet engine to the breaking of the sound barrier and sending people into space. It is hard to imagine there are many new ideas out there that would fundamentally change the industry. Yet, today’s aviation innovators are proving that seeking solutions to simple problems will continue to transform the ways people take flight.

Scully Balasopoulov and the Electronic Flight Bag

It often seems like life here on the ground is centered around mobile devices. Go anywhere and you will see people enjoying music and film, surfing the web, or communicating with family and friends – all from the palm of their hands. Jeppesen, a subsidiary of Boeing, took the concept to the place where it made the most sense to them – the cockpit of an airplane – when they designed a mobile application to enhance the Electronic Flight Bag.

Jeppesen mobile application
Jeppesen has been involved with electronic charting for years, but one of their newest innovations allows aviators to carry an Electronic Flight Bag, including a mobile application. Image courtesy of Jeppesen.

Scully Balasopoulov, a visual designer of applications for Jeppesen, and his team took thousands of paper aeronautical charts and placed them on this mobile device which is transforming the way pilots and crews plan and carry out their missions.

“We have done electronic charts for years,” said Balasopoulov. “But, we had to take what we learned from these and put it into a light and mobile platform. By doing this we turned the mentality upside down about how aviators can use charts on a mobile device when they fly.”

Balasopoulov knows that in the competitive world of aviation, change has to happen in the blink of an eye if you want to stay at the top. Building on prior successes in developing electronic charts, it took only six weeks for Balasopoulov and his team to develop the mobile application.

“You have to build at that speed to remain competitive,” said Balasopoulov. “It can takes years to develop other electronic charts because of the enormous research and approval process, but here everything is done, and we are just putting it into the application.”

Anna Dietrich and the Transition Roadable Aircraft

Anna Mracek Dietrich
Terrafugia's Chief Operating Officer, Anna Mracek Dietrich, with the Transition Roadable Light Sport Aircraft Proof of Concept. Photo courtesy of Terrafugia.

For more than 60 years, inventors from around the world have tried to solve one of life’s great transportation mysteries, how to combine the advantages of flight with the convenience of the automobile. Aviation innovator Anna Dietrich set out to answer a very different question – how do you get pilots in the air more often to maintain skills critical to flight? After a 2002 study pointed at weather, lack of mobility once you reach your destination, high cost and long door-to-door travel time, Dietrich, along with other graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, formed Terrafugia, a company that has created the Transition Roadable Aircraft.

“One of the things that I think is important is that we didn’t set out to create a new technology,” said Dietrich, the chief operating officer for Terrafugia. “I think a lot of the wisdom that I have learned is that simplicity is really powerful. A lot of innovation is combining existing things in a new way to come up with something different.”

Initially setting out to solve the specific inconveniences that plagued pilots, the Terrafugia team has finalized design refinements and is now building production prototypes. But, as with all big ideas, the process of innovation includes countless failures and a certain level of uncertainty. While it is easy to think of these failures as defeat, innovators think of these setbacks as just another way to get to where they want to go.

“Failing is part of the process,” said Dietrich. “A test is over when you learn something. And that learning comes because you either accomplish your test plan or because something broke. Both are very valuable.”

The future of flight is as simple as solving the problems of today

There is no doubt that both Balasopoulov and Dietrich are part of the new face of aviation and their work will serve as an inspiration for future innovators who will continue to alter how we think of flying.

“I think its better to not to try and do something innovative, but instead to solve a problem that you care about,” said Dietrich. “It focuses you, and chances are, you will be forced to do something new and innovative to fix that problem.”

We hope you have enjoyed our coverage of the 2011 Women in Aviation, International Conference. Click here to read more stories on the Centennial of Naval Aviation.

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