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Jan D. Achenbach

Conference honors pioneer in aircraft safety methods

In honor of Jan D. Achenbach receiving the National Medal of Technology last year, Northwestern University held a two-day symposium, “The Quest for New Aero­structural Materials and Designs,” in October.

President Bush presented Achenbach, Walter P. Murphy Professor and McCormick School Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and of Mechanical Engineering, with the nation’s highest honor for technological innovation March 14, 2005, in a White House ceremony.

Experts from industry, academia, and government agencies attended the symposium to engage in discussions on the next generation of materials and designs for commercial and military aircraft. The symposium included five lecture sessions and three panel discussions; the speakers explored future trends and needs as well as significant opportunities and obstacles facing aircraft manufacturers, material suppliers, the academic community, the Air Force, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The shift from aluminum alloys to composites and hybrid materials, already in progress with the Airbus 380 and the Boeing 787, received special attention.

R. John Hansman, professor of aero­nautics and astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, delivered the keynote address, “Air Transportation and Technological Change.”

Other speakers at the conference included Achenbach; Thomas A. Cruse, U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory; Gail Hahn, Boeing PhantomWorks; Larry Ilcewicz, the FAA; John Liu, Alcoa; Oliver Masefield, Eclipse Aviation; Gregory B. Olson, Wilson-Cook Professor of Engineering Design at McCormick; Henrik Roesner, Airbus; Brian W. Smith, the Boeing Company; Terry Weisshaar, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; and James C. Williams, the Ohio State University. The symposium was supported in part by the FAA.

“This symposium was successful because it reflected an impetus to the development of new materials and designs by the expected expansion of air travel as well as by the international competition between the major aircraft manufacturers — Boeing and Airbus,” remarked Achenbach.

Achenbach received the National Medal of Technology for his seminal contributions to engineering research and education and for pioneering ultrasonic methods for the detection of cracks and corrosion in aircraft, leading to improved safety for aircraft structures.