Perhaps the fifth generation will start to make greater use of thermoplastics. Thermoplastics have the advantage of lower knock-down factors and the ability to weld structures together at very high temperatures. That gives you an integrity in the combining of parts much better than either co-curing or bonding. I can’t say that thermoplastics are ready to vie in all respects, but there is a great deal of promise there.

I feel very privileged to have been involved in all 4 [developmental] stages that exist today, and I’m hoping to be involved in the fifth stage as well.”

The Role of AI and Unmanned Aircraft

“Artificial intelligence is a factor in almost everything we do in life now. So many things are enabled by A.I., starting with the kinds of warnings you get in cars these days – major safety factors. So, A.I. is an increasing factor [in aerospace].

Simplistically, if you rely on A.I., you have the potential of eliminating the workload on pilots – and maybe ultimately pilots altogether. When you consider that probably 85% of aircraft accidents are due to pilot error, it stands to reason that if you get rid of them you might increase the safety factor. Now, I am a pilot myself and I don’t want to eliminate that part of it. I have over 10,000 hours now, and I’ve loved every one of them. But still, if I’m approaching minimums [when landing] a jet, I’d like to have auto pilot. With A.I., the autopilot can do the approach more accurately than I can all by myself.

The military is another huge application for advanced composites. The reason that our Predator drones are so effective is because they are light, and we are able to fly off for up to 48 hours without refueling – an amazing accomplishment. I think we are just beginning to see the activity of unpiloted airplanes in various versions for military actions can be done much less expensively. You have the huge advantage of endurance, so you are already up in the air when a problem occurs, and you can take action immediately.”

Fueling Future Aircraft

“The question of fuels – hydrogen, electric or hydrocarbons – that’s still very much up in the air. I think there is a place for all. But I also happen to believe that the CO2 factor is overrated as a problem. In fact, CO2 is the thing that makes everything you see in our life green. It’s essential to plant life. It’s essential to all life. The problem with air pollution is primarily carbon particulates, not CO2.