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Go big or go home . . . the Lockheed Martin skunk works is still thinking large

By Steve Geary | 11/19/2014 | 7:21 AM

I’m an engineer, so when something is called “solve for x,” I’m intrigued.   Solve for x evokes word problems from eighth grade algebra classes, but to those of us blessed (or cursed) with an engineering disposition, it is more than that.

Solve for x encapsulates what engineers do.  We take a look at the world, resolve a situation down to a word problem, turn that set of facts into an equation, and then figure out how to “solve for x.”  So, when a good friend of mine (thank you, Ed Story) sent me a link to a video that talked about an initiative called “solve for x” sponsored by Google, it caught my attention.

And it really caught my attention because the particular link that Ed sent talked about transportation and logistics.

Here’s the logistics word problem:  more than 2/3 of the world’s land area and more than ½ of the world’s population has no access to paved roads.  How do we link those people and that land mass to the world’s supply chain, international commerce, and the global economy?

Now, the military logistics analogue is clear.  How do we project force into those areas that lack roads?How do we sustain in the middle of Africa?  What would we do if we needed to project, in large numbers, into the land mass of South America?

Bob Boyd from Lockheed Martin’s skunk works solves for x.  It is a 15 minute video, but I recommend it. Very informative and provocative.  

LM has an airship, the P-791 – they call it a hybrid aircraft - that first flew in 2006.  It can be scaled to a payload capacity of 500 tons and doesn’t require a runway.  It can land on a lake and act like a hovercraft.

Think about it.  Lockheed Martin is trying to open the door to a transportation network that does not require infrastructure.   These people are not crazy.  LM’s skunk works has been around 70 years, and they have given us breakthroughs like the U-2, the SR-71, and the F-117 Stealth fighter. 

Today, one of the issues they’re looking at transportation, and they really are thinking big, both literally and figuratively.  Think about the physical dimensions of these airships:  they can be as big as a football stadium.   Imagine a transportation network that doesn’t require infrastructure. 

I love the magic that happens when you put the visionaries from Google together with the iconoclasts from Lockheed Martin’s skunk works.  Go big or go home.



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About Mike Rudolph

Mike Rudolph

Mike Rudolph is a recently retired Marine Colonel with over 30 years of operational experience, proven leadership, and management success in the logistics and supply chain management fields. He is an executive consultant with ROSE Solutions and the Supply Chain Visions family of companies - consultancies that work throughout the government sector. Mike led the Marine Corps Supply Chain and Life Cycle Management Center at Marine Corps Logistics Command - responsible for supply chain and life cycle management of all ground weapon systems, equipment, and reparable components, the depot maintenance program, and equipment prepositioning program. During 2004-2008, he served two tours of duty in Anbar Province, Iraq as the G-4 for Multi-National Force – West, supporting all combat operations and coalition efforts to revitalize Iraqi economic development and stability. Mike's efforts were recognized with the Bronze Star for his first tour and the Legion of Merit for his second. He was widely recognized as a visionary and innovator in the Marine Corps logistics community.


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