The nature of aerospace innovation has changed dramatically in the past few decades, including some subtle changes that might go unnoticed to a casual observer outside our industry. The achievements of the 1950s through the 1990s were often epitomized by events that made headlines throughout the world - for example, breaking the sound barrier, walking on the Moon, receiving the first images from a roving vehicle on Mars, or launching the first airliner designed solely using computers.
Aerospace engineers today are creating feats that are no less innovative or impressive but that often lack the universal sensational appeal of those past “miracles.” Now the accomplishments are likely to be concerned with using data more effectively to reduce risk and enhance the safety and affordability of products and services rather than flying faster, higher or more stealthily.
We engineers are often satisfied to work quietly as we have done for decades and find motivation in solving problems and knowing we made the science of flight better. However, we may want to consider how trends may be affecting young people's interest in aviation as a career field, and whether they are being engaged and inspired the way students in earlier generations were inspired by programs like Apollo and the Supersonic Transport (SST).
How can we tell the story of aerospace innovation today in a way that will help foster awe in future generations of would-be or could-be engineers? We can look both to the past and the future to find answers to that question.