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Blue-Sky Thinking

DN Staff

February 23, 2004

2 Min Read
Blue-Sky Thinking

Sometimes, good engineering ideas come from the most surprising places. That was definitely the case for the subject of our cover story this month, Paul Bevilaqua, Chief Engineer for Advanced Development Projects at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. Voted 2004 Engineer of the Year by Design News readers, he's the mastermind behind the lift-fan propulsion system that provides the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft with both vertical lift and supersonic flight capabilities. Up until now, a single airplane has never been able to do both.

What makes this story unique is the fact that the engineering teams from Lockheed Martin and Boeing that were competing for the JSF contract had only a single design requirement to work with: A weight not to exceed 24,000 lbs.

This was a complete, 180-degree about-face for aeronautical engineers. The way military contracts usually work is that engineers are given tight performance specs, and the lightest design to meet the specs wins. In the case of the JSF competition, engineers had to take general performance goals and come up with a successful new aircraft design. No easy job.

During my visit to Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, CA, to report the story, I learned about some of the fairly innovative brainstorming techniques the team tried, including the Famous Persons Question: If someone famous [insert name here] invented this aircraft what would it look like? (Any guesses on what person would have invented the Stealth airplane? Hint: He was an illusionist.)

They also tried the Chinese Menu approach, which involves generating lists of all the alternatives, then mixing and matching them to see what works. They even brainstormed some unconventional ways of generating thrust in a jet engine, like using a magnet to generate an electromotive force or charging the exhaust with ions.

Despite all the Blue Sky thinking, when it actually came down to Bevilaqua's Eureka! moment, it was amazingly down-to-earth: Read all about how Lockheed Martin engineers obtained the additional thrust they needed using conventional turbofan technology (with a twist or two) in "Man with a Fan," on page 59.

And read all about our other 2004 Engineering Achievement Award Winners who used their own unique brainstorming processes to successfully develop new transmission technology, improve motorcycle performance, develop new medical technology and more. We think you will find their stories inspiring.

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