Nothing's happening in aerospace. That's what you hear from a lot of people these days. If you are among those who believe that aerospace has stopped innovating because of military cutbacks and soft demand for commercial planes, consider these recent events--
* In one of the most challenging space missions of recent years, the space shuttle Atlantis docked flawlessly with Russia's space station Mir at a speed of 17,500 mph. The mission helps pave the way for establishment of America's space station Alpha, beginning in 1997.
* Boeing released its long-awaited 777 airliner for commercial service. Among its key features: the most powerful engine ever certified by the FAA, a triple-redundant fly-by-wire flight control system, and extensive use of composites.
* Raytheon's Beech aircraft won the contract to build the military's next generation training jet, a deal that could be worth as much as $7 billion over 20 years .
* Lockheed delivered an 86% scale model version of an advanced short takeoff/vertical landing plane. Power comes from a unique Pratt & Whitney engine that provides both conventional thrust, as well as shaft power to drive a lift fan.
* Boeing's Heliwing autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle recorded its first successful flight. The 8-foot-long craft, designed for detecting surface-skimming missiles, takes off like a helicopter, switches to airplane-like flight, then reverts to helicopter mode for landing.
* Raytheon is working with the FAA on plans to certify its control-by-light technology in a light business jet. The system could eliminate a third of the plane's wires and cables, saving up to 250 lbs.
* With a new $1.5 billion contract to launch at least 10 Hughes satellites, McDonnell Douglas is moving ahead with development of its Delta 3, a two-stage rocket that will place up to 8,400-lb loads in orbit.
* A genuine rebirth is underway in general aviation, thanks to long-awaited product liability reform.
All these developments underscore the fact that aerospace remains the nation's premier driver of high technology. A new study by the Washington-based Economic Strategy Institute finds that critical technologies with both the highest military and commercial potential trace their roots to aerospace. These include: electronic and photonic materials, computer simulation, high-performance software, composites, sensors, high-definition imaging, and micro/optoelectronics.
This special issue of Design News describes many new aerospace developments. Many can be applied by OEM design engineers to any number of fields.