Linden S. Blue is an aviation pioneer. He and his brother Neal were dubbed “the Flying Blue brothers” and depicted on the April 8, 1957, cover of Life Magazine as members of the Yale Aerial Expedition to South America.

Sixty-five years later, Blue has compiled an impressive resume in the aerospace industry, including president and CEO of Beech Aircraft Corporation, a director of Raytheon Company, CEO of Lear Fan Limited, executive vice president and general manager of Gates Learjet Corporation and managing director of Spectrum Aeronautical. He continues to be energized by aeronautics, as well as advanced materials such as composites that allow for industry innovations.

“The physical properties of composites are compelling, there’s no question about that, compared to all the metals – aluminum, titanium, steel,” said Blue during a keynote address at ACMA’s Advanced Air Mobility Composites Technology Days in the spring. “And the tremendous advantage is getting away from fasteners. That’s where you get a lot of weight savings and labor savings.”

Blue, who currently is an owner and vice chairman of San Diego-based General Atomics, discussed the evolution of composites and much more in his keynote address, which is featured here in an abridged version with subheads, followed by a question-and-answer session with Tech Day moderators John Busel, vice president of ACMA’s Composites Growth Initiative, and Dan Coughlin, leader of industrial collaborations at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

A ‘Better Way’ with Composites

“If you really want to learn to love composites, you ought to build airplanes out of aluminum and rivets for five years as I did at Learjet. We made some wonderful airplanes out of aluminum, but when you walked through the factory there was a cacophony of rivet guns. When you see the labor intensiveness of it, you’ve just got to say, ‘There must be a better way.’ Well, what served me in composites was thinking there must be a better way.

At one point, I visited the [Learjet] Aeronca factory in Ohio to learn about the thrust reversers for their jets. In the process, I saw they had made a composite flap track fairing for a 707 or 747. That part was very large – about the size of their jet fuselage. And in fact the shape was a lot like their jet fuselage.

It was quite a revelation to me to see how they were making composites, then go back to [my factory] and hear the rivet guns and see the difficulties of blowing holes in material and putting in rivets and all the quality control factors that go into that. At that time, as general manager of Learjet I was always looking at better ways of doing things.