The V-22 Osprey is a complicated machine that took highly technical minds to design and to build.
But without workers with skills in science, technology, engineering and math, the V-22 Osprey would have never gotten off the ground.
A Boeing executive who served as a program manager for the Osprey stressed the need for a STEM-educated workforce during the annual Eastern Carolina Aviation Heritage Foundation Gala Friday in Havelock.
“I don’t care if you want to save the planet from global warming or you want to build an airplane, we need your technical expertise,” said John Rader, Boeing’s vice president of electronics and sensor solutions.
Rader, a retired Marine colonial who flew F-18 jets and served in Operation Desert Storm, said the Osprey had revolutionized the modern military. But, he said that would not have been possible without educated workers.
The aviation foundation has placed an emphasis on STEM education with a new outreach program at area schools, and Rader’s comments were on point.
“The intent is to reach the youth of today,” Rader said of several advertising campaigns by Boeing and other large aerospace companies.
“I think I can speak for industry because I think we’re pretty well aligned. There are a couple of concerns in the aviation industry. We have an aging workforce. I’m kind of the typical boss, and I’m not 20.”
Rader said the engineering workforce had been historically white men but said more people from all walks of society were needed to produce new ideas.
“STEM, across income levels and economic levels, is hugely important across the industry,” Rader said. “Society tends to tell men to go do that, so those of us in this room, me included, are creating the culture, creating the environment, where we start kids on deciding what they want to do in the future. We get to drive what they see and what they hear and then they get to draw their own conclusions.”
Aviation companies see an important need to replace their aging workforce of engineers and technicians, he said.
“Who’s going to design stuff after this. It’s got people very, very worried and for good reason,” Rader said. “I didn’t want to sermonize about STEM. I think it’s something that we really ought to think about as we go forward. We have to figure out what our future is like and we just cannot ignore it. There’s just too much out there and there’s just too much at stake.”
Rader, who was stationed at Cherry Point from 1979 to 1983 for his first operational assignment, told the 300 attendees that he felt like he was coming home.
“What you do in this area to support the warfighter is phenomenal,” he said. “You have my personal thanks and just respect for your patriotism for what you do for this country.”
Many in the audience had ties to the military or the Fleet Readiness Center East aircraft maintenance and repair facility at Cherry Point. Maintenance of the Osprey is a large part of the FRC East workload.
Rader ran down a long list of superior aspects of the Osprey.
“We take the advantages of a helicopter and also the advantages of a longer range cargo aircraft and we do both with one aircraft,” Rader said. “The challenge is how do you do both within one aircraft. You talk about STEM. You talk about engineering breakthroughs. This airplane is one of the most amazing systems airplanes that you can ever look at.
“Below a certain speed, you’re flying as if it’s a helicopter. Your controls move like a helicopter’s. As you start gaining speed, the computer takes over and transitions the flight controls and now you’re flying like a jet guy. We have found that when we put people in the simulator that are new to this airplane, within 15 minutes they are flying it perfectly.”
Rader said that while the Osprey has a checkered past, having experienced two tragic fatal crashes and having been canceled twice by the Department of Defense, the modern Osprey is a bird of a different breed.
“If you look at the airplane today it is really nothing like the airplane that was first developed in the 80s. The internal guts of it are very, very different,” Rader said. “The flight control laws are completely different. It’s a software airplane. It’s like a JSF. It’s like an F-18 in that pretty much everything you do is controlled by software.”
There are more than 240 Ospreys with more than 200,000 flight hours, which means the aircraft is relatively mature, Rader said.
“When you look at the expected lifespan of this aircraft, which should take us out to around 2040 or 2050 we’re only flown about 2 or 3 percent of the total flight hours, so in one sense it’s very experienced, but in another sense, we’re just getting started.”
The Marine Corps is currently replacing its legacy CH-46s and CH-53Es helicopters with Ospreys, which have greater range and speed.
“It’s on the East Coast, West Coast. It’s in Japan. It’s in England with Air Force Special Operations Command,” Rader said. “It’s in Florida and New Mexico, so you’re starting to see the airplane everywhere.”