It’s a matter of matching available technology to a need. In this case, Learjet needed a more economical version of its model 25 [high-speed business jet aircraft]. We ended up being the first people to apply winglets to our airplanes. The advantage for the Learjet is we were able to add wing area aspect ratio and get by with less thrust.”

Early Adoption of New Technologies

“When Lear Fan was embryonic, they recruited me. I was very willing to listen to their proposal because I had seen what composites could do. I ended up becoming CEO of Lear Fan. [The turboprop airplane] was first-generation composites. We essentially were trying to make metal parts out of composites. You could do it. In fact, prior to that we made a landing gear door out of composites. But the idea of doing a whole plane was a huge step beyond that.

In the first generation, when you try to make ‘black aluminum’ [CFRP] parts you end up with most of the disadvantages of aluminum and few of the advantages of composites. So, you hope to find a better solution.

Second generation was honeycomb sandwich panel, and that was a technology we used with the Starship program at Beech. I left Lear Fan and became the CEO of Beech Aircraft. The idea was to bring Beech into the modern era with the best possible materials. Honeycomb sandwich panels were good, but we didn’t get the weight savings and there were other issues. Sandwich panels are wonderful in many respects, but they have a lot of limitations as well.The third generation is [representative of what] the 787 did and dramatically improved technology over honeycomb sandwich panels. Honeycomb sandwich panels had been used in vertical stabilizers for some of the big airplanes before the 787’s effort to make the entire airframe out of composites.

The 787 is simply a better airplane. One of its major advantages, in addition to composites, is reduction in the number of fasteners by a factor of 100 compared to a similarly sized 777. When you reduce the things that put airplanes together by a factor of 100 that’s a tremendous opportunity for saving time and avoiding all the problems you get into when you drill a hole in a material.”

Next-Generation Composite Materials

“In the fourth generation, there is the potential for reducing fasteners by another factor of 10, which would give you 1,000 times fewer fasteners than conventional aluminum. That’s what we have done with the Spectrum business jet. It’s not finished or certified, but it has a great deal of promise. And instead of fasteners it relies primarily on co-curing – making large parts that go together homogeneously in the curing process.