SAE Blog Text

GoAERO CEO shares insights on life-saving aerospace challenge

Posted: February 27, 2024

In the crucial minutes following disaster, how long do you want to wait for help to arrive?

For millions of people living in “ambulance deserts” far from emergency care, it can take 25 minutes or more for a medical crew to arrive. At minimum, this introduces extra anxiety into an already stressful situation—at worst, it costs lives.

Gwen Lighter, Founder and CEO of GoAERO (Aerial Emergency Response Operations), wants to alleviate concerns around response time by enabling agile and dependable emergency response fliers that can quickly reach those experiencing a medical emergency when traditional response vehicles cannot.

GoAERO challenges the best and brightest minds in aerospace to create an innovative emergency response flyer that can support a single person as a life-saving solution in an emergency scenario. Competitors receive access to a community of aerospace engineering experts with ties to the likes of Boeing, NASA, RTX, SAE International and more, with a $2 million prize on the line for the best idea. 

Gwen’s passion is driven by personal experience.

“Many years ago, I was at my parents’ home and my father had chest pains. He doesn’t live in an ambulance desert, so when I called 911 the ambulance came on time. I followed after him in the ambulance in my car, and as we were driving there was traffic—just regular, everyday traffic—and I remember saying over and over again, ‘Please move. Please move,’” she said.

“Fortunately, he got to the hospital on time, and he’s amazing now, but in that moment, I was not alone in experiencing that feeling. Every hour of every day, people have that thought, ‘please move’ or ‘please provide help,’ and in those moments, we all need to be able to harness technology to provide that help for people who wouldn’t normally receive it as fast as they could.”

As the competition takes off this spring, participants will go through three stages to answer that plea for help. Already underway is stage one, which calls for participants to submit a paper design of what their flyer would look like by October. In stage two, those designs move to prototyping, which will take most of 2025. And finally in stage three, competitors take part in the final flyoff to test their flyer in five different missions—each with a prize for completion, with a top prize for the team that does the best overall. A technical rules webinar is scheduled for February 29 at 6 a.m. PT/9 a.m. ET and  March 19 at 3 p.m. PT/6 p.m. ET to clarify competition rules.

A competition of this scale calls for high-level collaboration across industry to fuel innovation. GoAERO works with partners to encourage the open exchange of ideas, allowing the best to rise to the top.

 “We are developing a new technology that really hasn’t existed. This is an extra tool in the emergency response toolkit, but to develop it safely, it can’t be just one company or organization,” Gwen said. “We need to create a full ecosystem to not only catalyze their creation, but to make sure they’re safe, they function within the regulatory framework, and that they are useful, so they are actually saving lives.”

Cross-industry collaboration is a core value for SAE International, making partnership with GoAERO a natural progression. Gwen will be a featured keynote speaker at SAE’s AeroTech, March 12-14 in Charlotte, North Carolina. She will share more details of the competition with an SAE audience and talk about the key technologies for success in GoAERO.

“It takes a global village to build this, so we will certainly be looking to SAE members to join us on this journey, whether it’s as teams, mentors, or judges,” Gwen said. “Whatever the case may be, there’s a lot of avenues for involvement, and I’ll be speaking not only about the missions, but how one can collaborate with us.”

Learn more about this life-saving challenge at and join us at AeroTech to connect with Gwen.