JOHN LANGFORD BLENDS BUSINESS AND PASSION WITH UAVS AND ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH by Dick Dahl
AeroAstro alumnus John Langford is the president and CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences Corp., a Virginia-based company that specializes in the design and construction of unmanned aircraft. Langford, who received his Ph.D. in aeronautics and public policy from MIT in 1987, was a member of MIT’s Monarch and Daedalus teams, which designed and built record-setting human-powered aircraft in the 1980s.
Q. Could you describe the Daedalus Project? Langford: I came back to MIT in the fall of ‘81 (from a job at Lockheed) for graduate school. While I was working on my master’s, the British Aeronautical Society offered a prize called the Kremer Prize, to make a fast, human-powered airplane. “Fast” is a relative term. (Previous unmanned aircraft) had flown at about the speed you could walk. So we put a team together and did Monarch, and we actually won the prize. When that was done, we said, “Well, that was really cool.” But everything about Monarch was a compromise for speed — for speed on the plane and speed on the project. Afterward, we were sitting around kicking back and forth the question, “How good could you make one of these?” Had it advanced to the point where you could re-create the myth of Daedalus?’ We began to mention this publicly and, much to our surprise, instead of having a bunch of people scoffing, there were people around the department who thought this was pretty cool and encouraged us on. That became a three-year program that first did an airplane that was called the Michelob Light Eagle, because our first sponsor was Anheuser Busch, who underwrote the project with several hundred thousand dollars. We built the Eagle in ‘86 and in January of ‘87 we took it out to NASA Dryden (Flight Research Center in California) and it set five world records that still stand today. It still only went half the distance you’d have
ALUMNI INTERVIEW: John Langford