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Stanford Report, July 23, 2003

School of Engineering to host symposium on future of air and space travel

Alumnus Vance Coffman, CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., to give keynote speech; panel to discuss latest technologies


On Dec. 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers ushered in the era of powered flight at Kitty Hawk. Most centennial celebrations held this year to commemorate that flight look back at aviation milestones dotting the timeline between then and now. But on July 31, the School of Engineering will look ahead to forecast how Stanford research is likely to change the way we traverse the clouds and cosmos during the next 100 years. The symposium, titled "The Future of Air and Space Travel," will take place from 4 to 7:30 p.m. in the Teaching Center of the Science and Engineering Quad. Registration is required:

"It's appropriate that there be an event here at Stanford that celebrates [the centennial] because Stanford has had a major role in both aeronautic and astronautic developments in the United States," says Brian Cantwell, the Edward C. Wells Professor in the School of Engineering and chair of the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department. While commercial air travel hasn't fully recovered from the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the economic downturn, he says, research advances over the next two decades may aid its restoration by making flying cheaper, safer and more reliable.

"Stanford's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics has consistently ranked in the top three nationwide and its distinguished faculty continue to work on breakthroughs in areas ranging from precision navigation to revitalizing air travel and improving access to space," says Jim Plummer, the John M. Fluke Professor of Electrical Engineering and the Frederick Emmons Terman Dean of the School of Engineering. He and Cantwell will co-host the event.

The symposium's keynote speaker will be Vance Coffman, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin Corp. Coffman received master's ('69) and doctoral ('74) degrees in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford. His talk is titled "A 21st-Century Model for Aerospace."

Coffman joined Lockheed's Space Systems Division in 1967 as a guidance and control systems analyst and went on to lead the development of several major space programs and large ground data processing systems. In 1988, he was appointed president of the Space Systems Division and in this role was responsible for the Hubble Space Telescope, the MILSTAR satellite communications program, the Follow-on Early Warning System (now called Space Based Infrared System) and the company's contribution to the Iridium telecommunications system.

A fellow of both the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the American Astronautical Society, Coffman has received numerous honors for national defense contributions, business leadership and scientific accomplishments. He became chair of the President's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee in 2002 and of the Aerospace Industries Association in 2003.

After his talk, Coffman will join faculty panelists to discuss the role academia may play in revitalizing commercial air travel, improving access to space and developing autonomous systems. The panelists also will explore the promise of precision navigation, aerodynamics, propulsion and other topics that may transform aviation during the next century. Global Positioning System (GPS) pioneer Bradford Parkinson, the Edward C. Wells Professor in the School of Engineering, Emeritus, will moderate the panel. Parkinson is winner of the 2003 Charles Stark Draper Prize, the highest award bestowed in engineering each year.

Faculty panelists will include:

Juan Alonso, who develops methods for simulating the changing air flow over a plane wing as the wing is being continuously deflected;

Claire Tomlin, who applies modern control theory to challenges in air traffic control;

Ilan M. Kroo, who develops microvehicles for environmental monitoring; and

Sanjay Lall, who models complex, interconnected systems and develops computational tools to coordinate the individual components of those systems, as in formation flight.

The event is sponsored by the School of Engineering's Office of Corporate Relations and the Stanford Center for Professional Development as well as Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

'Greatest hits'

In 1915, William F. Durand created Stanford's first course on aeronautics -- the second in the United States after MIT -- motivated by his interest in characterizing propeller performance. Over the next decade he set the stage for Stanford to establish itself as an innovative leader in this nascent research field.

Stanford's subsequent "greatest hits" in aeronautics and astronautics research include pioneering of the GPS and subsequent wide area augmentation system (WAAS), which provides commercial pilots with even more accurate position information than does GPS. They include creation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for environmental monitoring, killer-bee-sized flyers saddled with sensors, and systems for monitoring damage to structures made of composite materials. Stanford researchers also have introduced novel fuels for hybrid rockets, advanced computer systems for air traffic control and top-notch computational methods for simulating complex aerospace systems. Experiments of exquisite precision, such as Gravity Probe B to test aspects of Einstein's general theory of relativity, are grounds for pride as well.

Some "greatest hits" may seem surprising for an aero/astro department -- such as an autonomous underwater robot to track jellyfish and a camera-in-a-pill that propels itself through the convolutions of the small intestine. "We do research on anything that moves," explains Cantwell, whose own research focuses on effects of flow turbulence on aircraft and rocket propulsion.