Yesterday was the World Electric Aircraft Symposium sponsored by GE Aviation. Craig Willan chaired a full day of visionary perspectives and technical updates from Burt Rutan (Scaled Composites), Bertrand Piccard & Andre Borschberg (Solar Impulse), Chris Van Buiten (Sikorsky), JB Straubel (Tesla Motors), Erik Lindbergh (Lindbergh Electric Aircraft Prize), Randy Babbitt (FAA), Robert Iorio (Ford), Chet Fuller (GE Aviation) and others. I was attending given my interest in the innovation infrastructure side of the story, and the fact that I think an electric airplane (i.e., quiet) sounds like heaven.
I've been talking with people from the emerging electric aircraft world for the last 9 months or so and was thrilled to hear that the symposium had to be moved to a larger venue given greater than expected registration. This is the first time I've seen an innovation community from near the beginning. Thank you to Bob Waldron for the heads up!
I also was interested in what, if any, advice I could give to the leaders around how to support the community. The players are diverse, ranging from EAA (the membership organization that puts on AirVenture, Oshkosh), the burgeoning firms (see my prior posts on Yuneec, Sonex, and Cessna/Bye Energy), standards committee members, foundations (CAFE, Creative Solutions Alliance), NASA, and individual enthusiasts.
Or at least I thought that was the community. By the end of the symposium I'd decided that thinking only about the people and organizations interested in electric aircraft was too narrow. The speakers came from across the world of electric propulsion. GE, Ford, and Tesla all have deep connections to aviation either through history or personal interests, but their expertise is much broader than just aviation. The community is one of "electric propulsion" or perhaps "high reliability/light weight electric propulsion." The answers won't come from a narrow perspective. In fact, the common theme throughout the day was the necessity of government, industry, academic, and enthusiast collaboration. Solutions will come from across the systems needed to make this work. There is no single hurdle to overcome.
I'd first chosen to include this picture just because it made me laugh. That's a Southwest 737 (with the new navigational capability installed) lined up with a USAF C5 Galaxy (one of the largest military transports). The caption provided by the photographer was "Think she'll fit?" Cracked me up, especially as I'd done a walk-thru of the C5 yesterday. But then I realized the picture related to my thinking about the electric aircraft community.
We shouldn't be trying to shoehorn the community into a particular space. Instead we should be letting the innovation flow across the components in a more synergistic way. I'm going to let the events of the last week settle a bit. I look forward to continuing the conversations and have as some homework re-reading Huggy Rao's work on enthusiasts in innovation. His ideas of "hot causes" and "cool mobilization" may speak to how to best limit or open boundaries around this community. How can you follow the development of the electric aircraft revolution?