Dr. John S. Langford
Candidate for AIAA President-Elect 2017
“The next AIAA President will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. The Apollo program galvanized a generation and led many of the AIAA’s senior members into the careers they hold today. Apollo is a magnificent example of what America can accomplish when we focus our attention and resources on a carefully-scoped goal. Yet, that great accomplishment was two generations ago. If we wish to achieve a human expedition to Mars within our lifetimes, we as an industry must increasingly build on our advocacy and continue to be the champion for America’s sustained leadership in aerospace. I believe the AIAA is uniquely positioned to help move this national debate forward and would be honored to lead the charge as your new President-Elect.”
The Existential Challenge facing the AIAA
“I am running for President of the AIAA because I believe I can have an impact on the future of this organization. The AIAA faces an existential threat from membership loss. Since 2001, we have lost almost one-third of our profressional membership. This decline has been steady and consistent, unaffected by external events. During this same period, aerospace sales have increased by a factor of about four. We cannot blame our membership decline on broad market conditions – we must look at the value proposition offered to our members. If this is not addressed, the AIAA will cease to exist as we know it.
In addition, our association budget has shrunk, while not at the same rate as our membership, requiring a careful examination of AIAA programs and services. The Institute has three main revenue streams, membership dues (both corporate and individual), conferences, and publications. Looking forward there must be a balance to what is provided and at what cost.
As someone who has been committed to AIAA from a young age and one who has taken their education and passion and turned it into reality, I feel that I can put in place a clear plan for the Institute that will prove to be both beneficial to the membership and sustainable for the organization. Having started an aerospace firm and grown it to a successful mid-sized business, I will bring this entrepreneurial spirit to the leadership of the AIAA, with a relentless focus on reversing our membership decline and vow to double our membership within five years.”
Strong Proponent of STEM Education
“I am passionate about STEM education, and about passing the torch of enthusiasm to the next generation. I don’t just talk about this – I live it.”
In 2000, Dr. Langford was awarded the AIAA NCS Goldwater Education Award for “increasing awareness and participation of underrepresented groups in the aerospace industry.” He has participated in 12 Team America Rocketry Challenge events, serving both as a team mentor and as one of the Range Safety Officers running the range. Over 80,000 high school students – close to half of them young women – have participated in TARC. “I have personally organized and led the U.S. Junior Team at the eight World Space Model Championships since 2000. I am especially proud of the 2016 team that I took to Lviv, Ukraine, some two-thirds of whom were young women.” The team won six medals, the most ever by a US Junior team. Aurora organized and led both ZERO ROBOTICS, a high-school competition that allows students to program small satellites that fly aboard the International Space Station, and SKY ROBOTICS, a high school UAV competition built around programming flight missions. Both competitions combine virtual reality with actual flight experience.
“The AIAA has an incredible network of college and university student chapters, and these are some of the jewels of our organization. But we need to take the next step, becoming much more proactive and developing a compelling yet scalable activity for middle and high schools. Drawing on the experience of our university chapters and combining it with the experiences of our corporate members and our DBF heritage, I am confident that we can develop a viable, compelling, and affordable high school program.”
What AIAA Means to Me
“A native of Atlanta, Georgia, I grew up with a passion for building model airplanes and rockets from a young age. My interest in building grew with each new type of model, starting with plastic and balsa models as early as second grade, and then onto model rockets in fifth. Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon when I was in seventh grade, and by the time I started high school, I knew I wanted to go to MIT. My dream was to study aeronautics and astronautics so I could help design the first Mars spacecraft.
“In 1977, my sophomore year at MIT, I joined the AIAA. Introducing me to the world of student conferences, human-powered aircraft, and international rocket competitions, the AIAA and MIT Rocket Society were more or less my fraternities, fully immersing me into the world of aerospace.”
Dr. Langford’s first jobs in the industry were at Lockheed; first as an intern in the C5 Wing Structures program, and then after graduation as an engineer on the F-117 in Burbank. After returning to MIT for graduate school in the mid 1980s, the Institute for Defense Analysis supported his dissertation research, which paved the way to begin work with DARPA.
While still at MIT, Dr. Langford organized and led a series of human-powered aircraft projects, culminating in the Daedalus Project, which in 1988 shattered the world distance and endurance records for human powered flight. The 72 mile flight between the Greek islands of Crete and Santorini still holds the FAI world record for human-powered aircraft distance and duration. The key technologies from Daedalus became the genesis for Aurora Flight Sciences, which was founded in 1989.
“Throughout my career and the development of my company, I have relied on the AIAA at every stage. Journal papers, conference papers, section meetings, and tours of other organizations have been critical to our growth and development. More recently, we rely on AIAA books and publications to stock our corporate library. I became an AIAA Fellow in 2012. As part of AIAA delegations, I traveled to China in 2011 and India in 2014, visiting over a dozen aerospace facilities on each trip. I have served on the AIAA’s Institute Development Committee (IDC) since 2012 and served on the Blue-Ribbon Committee that launched the Governor’s restructuring project in 2013. All of these activities have helped lay a foundation for stronger ties with industry and increased support of the teachings by academia.”
Over the years, Aurora has grown from a three-person startup in a garage in Alexandria, Virginia, to a 500-person aerospace business utilizing autonomy to enable next-generation aircraft. The company works on everything from collision avoidance systems for small UAS to designs for next-generation airliners. Aurora has developed from concept through flight more than thirty original airplane designs. Many of these designs have resulted in exciting accomplishments for the company, such as flying a Mars Airplane prototype at over 100,000 feet in altitude (2002) and setting the world endurance record for UAS over 5,000 kg (2014). Aurora operates two composite production centers in Mississippi and West Virginia, a development center in Virginia, and an R&D Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“While I serve primarily in the corporate and government world today, I have a strong background in the academic and research worlds. I earned my doctorate from MIT in 1987, and I have served on academic advisory boards at MIT, the University of Maryland, and Mississippi State University. Additionally, I have purposefully located each of our company’s facilities adjacent to a major university, with whom we actively collaborate. I understand the needs of students, faculty, and researchers and with my business and policy experience, I have no doubt that I can effectively represent all areas of the AIAA constituency.”
Your Vision for AIAA
“Recently at SciTech, I had the pleasure of meeting many AIAA members and learning about their vision for the association. In addition to many great discussions, there was an interactive display at Aurora’s booth at the conference which allowed attendees to “post” their thoughts publicly as well. Below are just a few of those great ideas along with my response for how we can work together to accomplish these goals. Although SciTech is over, I have read each and every one of the ideas submitted and plan to continue reading those that come in through this website. Submit your own “Vision for AIAA” in the box below. I look forward to hearing from you!” – John
More recognition of Volunteers.
“I heard this one a lot. The AIAA has a fantastic professional staff, but at its heart it is a volunteer organization. I did a quick calculation that our Technical Committee members donate something like $50 million per year in service to the organization – more than twice our formal organization budget. This spirit needs to be recognized and encouraged.”
Have mentorship between students and professionals throughout all chapters.
“This is a great idea! In successful student competitions like TARC, we have used this idea extensively – each student team must work with an experienced mentor from the National Association of Rocketry. Why not do the same thing with AIAA, driving it down to the individual level? Matching up student members who seek mentors with professional AIAA members willing to volunteer their time could be of value to all parties. Perhaps we can set up a clearinghouse at AIAA headquarters to help make such matches, or add this to the Member profiles.”
Now that AIAA has a diversity and inclusion plan ensure the objectives are met and goals have actionable results.
“I agree that the diversity and inclusion plan and working group is an important first step. We need to make sure that all levels of our organization takes this seriously and are involved. For instance, I have been at several universities where some version of a women in aerospace group has been formed, but without formal affiliation with either WIA or AIAA. It seems to me that this is both a need and an opportunity for AIAA, to encourage more such groups but also to pull them into the mainstream of the AIAA.”