Rolls-Royce Memorial Lecture: Dr. Dana 'Keoki' Jackson
When Dana “Keoki” Jackson was a graduate student at MIT in the early 1990s, he had the privilege of working with the crew of the STS-58, a mission flown by Space Shuttle Columbia that was launched from Kennedy Space Center.
The crew included John Blaha and David Wolf, Purdue graduates whom Jackson called “inspirational figures” in his career.
“Supporting that mission was one of the most amazing experiences in my life,” Jackson said recently. “It helped to convince me to pursue my career in space and space exploration, and I’ve never regretted that decision.”
Jackson, now the CTO for Lockheed Martin, recounted that story this week on his first visit to the West Lafayette campus, when he gave the Charles Rolls and Henry Royce Memorial Lecture at a packed Fowler Hall.
He seemed as impressed with Purdue’s current students and faculty as he was years ago when he met alumni.
“This is a very special place,” Jackson said. “It has been an amazing day. Thank you to the entire Purdue team for an outstanding introduction to the university and, really, a world-class set of capabilities here.
“As Purdue prepares to celebrate the 150th anniversary next year, the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics stands out as one of the institution’s greatest assets, an engine of pioneering achievement in human air and spaceflight.
“Today through your research grants, your world-class facilities and, of course, world-class student body, you support some of the most exciting advances we’re seeing in hypersonics, material science, nanotechnology, computing, autonomy, and AI, just to name a few that are important to Lockheed Martin.”
Jackson’s talk, “Innovations on the Horizon of Flight,” focused on innovation and awe-inspiring new directions in the future of flight.
He discussed a variety of Lockheed Martin projects, detailing the company’s Skunk Works partnership with NASA on a quiet supersonic technology demonstrator (X-59) and with the Air Force on an unmanned vehicle designed to fly as a teammate with a manned vehicle in the battlespace (Have Raider); the S-97 Raider light tactical helicopter that can “actually double the speed of the fastest helicopter on the market today” with “twice the maneuverability of a conventional single-main-rotor helicopter,” he said; the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA); the Orion, a spacecraft designed for long-duration, deep-space exploration, that is scheduled to launch uncrewed first in 2021; the Mars Base Camp; the variations of the F-35; and more.
“If you’re an aerospace engineer and you’re not borderline giddy over what’s happening in our field, you are not paying attention,” Jackson said. “At Lockheed Martin, I get paid to pay attention. But I’ve got to admit, there are days I would happily do this for free. Think about it. Bringing back samples from an asteroid? Taking humans deep into the solar system? Flying five times the speed of sound, at least? It really is a thrill to be working on the forefront of these technologies that are driving this golden era of aviation and aerospace.”
Lockheed Martin has more than 25 senior executives and senior fellows who are Purdue alumni, including three vice presidents, Jackson said. The company has hired 70 Purdue students full-time and another 60 interns over the last three years, Jackson said, and it is looking to “continue to drive that number up.”
“Through what you do here and the caliber of your programs, your faculty, your students, you’re preparing the next generation of aerospace engineers, the people we need at Lockheed Martin and places like Rolls-Royce,” Jackson said.
“Moreover — and this is something that is somewhat unique at Purdue — you have such deep DoD partnerships that you’re graduating people who are prepared to work in (research and development) programs at the leading edge of some of this development.”