Tag Archives: Smithsonian

“Lessons from a Career of Trying to Defy the Law (of Gravity)”, lecture by Norman Augustine

Norman Augustine is an aeronautical engineer whom I have referred to often in this blog mainly due to his book “Augustine’s Laws” of which I wrote a review (find it here). He started working at Douglas Aircraft Company (1) in 1958, though through his long career he has occupied several positions in the administration and other major aerospace companies such Martin Marietta and then Lockheed Martin (2).

In my review about his book I wrote:

The book reviews A&D programs, especially their mismanagement and failures from the Wright brothers times till the early 80′s, when the book was written. The book is hilarious.

Lecture by Norman Augustine.

Lecture by Norman Augustine.

Some readers may believe I overstate it. Well, I invite you to watch the lecture he gave 2 days ago at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (3) as part of the Charles A. Lindbergh Memorial Lecture Series. The lecture was titled “Lessons from a Career of Trying to Defy the Law (of Gravity)” [47’59”].

During the lecture Norman shares a great deal of the wisdom he has accumulated through his long career, part of it condensed in his Laws, compiled in his book. One of the laws I like the most is possibly the number IX:

In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one tactical aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3 1/2 days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day. (LAW NUMBER IX)

I think it is priceless to have Norman explain it in person:

Augustine's Law IX.

Augustine’s Law IX.

During the lecture he used an update of his law (written in the 80’s) made by The Economist a few years ago which I covered also in this blog (4).

Other topics covered by Augustine during the lecture include: the importance of thinking with a systems point of view, the evolution of aerospace industry in the last decades, the importance of strategy and leadership, all covered by his fine humor and wit.

(1) You may read here a tribute I wrote about Douglas Aircraft Company.

(2) Some years ago I wrote this post about Lockheed’s Skunk Works.

(3) You may find here a post I wrote about my visit to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum at Dulles.

(4) I few months ago I wrote another post reviewing the application to bomber aircraft of Augustine’s Law IX with new US long range bomber program. In his book Norman includes an extrapolation as well of bomber aircraft increasing costs, even if the wording of the law takes tactical aircraft as the benchmark.

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A day in DC

Two years ago, in December 2008, I came for the 1st time to Washington DC. That was the first time I came to the USA and even though it was on a business trip, I managed to take some 4 hours in 2 days to do some sightseeing. I loved it.

Yesterday we arrived again to DC. This time Luca and me, on holidays, again just for 2 days. We checked in our hotel, The Quincy, in L Street NW, not very far from the White House… though I acknowledge that distances are misleading in this city: why wouldn’t you walk from Lincoln memorial to Washington memorial if “it’s just over there”, and from that to that other museum in The Mall, and for that matter to the Capitol. In the end you walk many kilometres. The hotel was a success. For just 100 dollars a night, we’ve got a room of rank of the best ones I get in business trips with the company, so the start of this stay was promising.

Today has been a long but entertaining day. I woke up without alarms at 5:30am. I checked the time and enjoyed the fact of having 45 more minutes of sleep. At 6:15am I got up, dressed in running gear and went out for a morning run. Only to discover that it was way hotter and more humid than I expected and dressed for. I didn’t come back to leave the sweater and paid for it later on. I was amazed by the dozens even hundreds of people I saw running before 7am around the city, especially in the Mall. I knew Americans love to run and do wake up early. Still, what I saw was beyond expectations. I went from the hotel to the Washington memorial passing by the White House (2 km), then to Capitol (other 2km) and back rounding the Washington memorial. In total 8.6 km. The plan was to round the capitol from behind and pass by the Jefferson memorial (4 more km) but I was way too overheated for that.                            

Back in the hotel I did some stretching, took a shower, washed clothes and got dressed to continue hitting the streets of DC. We went for breakfast at a cafeteria close to the hotel, then to a store to buy a new photo camera and at 9am we were at the Lincoln memorial ready to start a day of reflections (though the reflecting pool was empty and under construction).

We then headed to the World War II and the Washington memorials. Then to the American History museum. This one is one of the 19 museums of the Smithsonian. All of them admission-free, all of them wonderfully arranged. It is almost impossible to overstate the quality of those museums. In each one you could spend a week if you had it for each. There are hundreds of materials to read, to watch, to listen to… in each room. In this one we paid special attention to the rooms dedicated to the flag and the song that would become the American anthem, to the gowns of the First Ladies, to the presidents and Abraham Lincoln. By 11:45 we had to leave for the next appointment in the day.

This time we had booked a guided tour through The Capitol, which houses the Senate and the House of Representatives. We had to wait rather long as expected long queues weren’t such, so we took the extra 30 minutes we had in the schedule to have lunch in the restaurant within the building. The visit was funny and the guide entertaining, but I expected more of it. With that visit you don’t get to actually see the chambers. I guess that deal in Spain is better. However, as we were about to exit, Luca saw a sign for the Library of the Congress and there we went.

The visit of the LoC is wonderful as well. You get to see two bibles from the XV century, one made by Gutenberg, what is left from Jefferson’s library (a third from the original, but still over 6,000 books – including some from Cervantes) bought by the Congress, and one of the reading rooms, which anyone could access provided the she would get the card by filling a form and paying 2 bucks (that‘s not so easy in Madrid with the national library).

Afterward, we headed for the American Indian museum. Another one from the Smithsonian institution. By then I was exhausted and overloaded by information, so I paid attention to one of each 10 signs to read, but still enjoyed the museum.

As we went out it was already 17:20, time for museums to close… but as we passed by the Air and Space museum I saw a sign saying that that particular museum would open today till 19:30. There we went. We needed something relaxing so we bought a couple of tickets for the 3D movie “Legends of the Sky”, a splendid documentary of 50’ which has the 787 program as the main theme and covers some basic principles of flight such as propulsion, materials, structures, etc. It also reviews a b it of aviation history from the Lockheed Constellation to the A380. I especially liked the final line telling children that everything is not yet invented in aviation, we’ve just started. Then we entered the replica of the Spacelab, the gallery of the Apollo programme and the room dedicated to interactive explanations and games of the principles of flight: wonderful again. This was the second time I visited this museum… it won’t be the last.

By the time we left the museum, Luca and I were completely worn out by the rhythm of the day, with just some strength to walk back to the hotel and take some pictures in front of the White House on the way. We stopped at the Irish terrace close to the hotel to enjoy an American dinner composed of buffalo rings, hamburgers and 4 large beers to call it for the day.

Two years later, I continue to be more than delighted with DC.


Filed under Travelling