Newport Beach, CA-Doug Malewicki started his career much the same as other young engineers in the early '60s. The son of a Chicago steel worker and University of Illinois aerospace engineering grad joined North American Aviation's Space Division, working on such projects as escape modules for the Apollo astronauts.
Now, nearly four decades later, he loves aerospace, but his career has unfolded in ways decidedly different from that of most aeronautical engineers laboring for the Rockwells and Boeings of the world.
Consider these Malewicki inventions, spawned in the last 20 years as an engineer-entrepreneur and founder of California-based AeroVisions Inc.:
The "Robosaurus," a 40-ft-tall, 58,000-lb robot that spits fire and chews up cars at exhibitions all over the world. Malewicki designed much of the hydraulics for the mechanical monster and also wooed such leading vendors as Parker-Hannifin and Cummins Engine, which contributed hardware and engineering talent.
"White Lightning," a 400-hp electric car, featuring 4000 lb of NiCad batteries and reaching speeds close to 250 mph.
The rocket-powered K-1 Skycycle, designed to launch daredevil Evel Knievel across a 1,500-ft chasm over the Snake River.
Delta, a two-man submarine that dives to depths of 1,200 feet for research and exploration.
The F-18 Jet Bike, now under development, featuring a modified jet engine, afterburner system, and stainless steel ducting positioned over the rear wheel.
That's just a taste. But there's "serious stuff," too, usually resulting when Malewicki puts on his consultant's cap. For example, he advised Temcor Inc. on the design and construction of a mammoth, 415-diameter, 1.5-million-lb geodesic dome. Malewicki also focuses much of his energy today on gaining support and getting prototype funds for SkyTran, his vision of a lower-cost commuter system featuring elevated cars driven by magnetic levitation. For details on SkyTran and other Malewicki inventions, see www.canosoarus.com.
Says Malewicki: "I am not the kind of person who likes to do the same thing over and over again. I want new challenges, rather than fine tune what's been done in the past."
It's not a life, however, for the risk-averse. Sometimes, the gambles pay off quite nicely, both in job satisfaction and monetary rewards. "Robosaurus," which hit the exhibition circuit nearly 10 years ago, still pays Doug about $18,000 in royalties each year. But he also cites other projects where unscrupulous business associates have taken his time and expertise and paid him little or nothing. "To do what I do successfully," says Doug, "you need to find a friendly lawyer.''
You also must be more than a very talented engineer. "You need to blend technical expertise, with marketing and showmanship,'' says Malewicki, who also holds a Stanford master's degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering.
Where does he get his ideas? He reads a lot, especially science fiction. And he spends zero time following organized sports. "I'd rather go for a run, walk, or bike ride that directly benefits my own body.''
Malewicki notes that if he were a young engineer starting out today, he would likely choose to work for a smaller company or one with ties to Internet technology. But no matter what the work setting--large company, small firm or the kind of off-beat, "show-biz" projects to which Malewicki has devoted his career--the daily engineering challenges remain the same. Says Doug: "It's all about accomplishing a quality job for the lowest possible cost and in the fastest possible time frame."