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Creativity and aeronautics

Jean-François Georges is Hon­orary Pres­i­dent of the Aéro-Club de France. This civ­il aero­nau­ti­cal engi­neer, a for­mer Das­sault test-pilot, an expert in the fields of safe­ty, is also the author of the book Blues dans les nuages pub­lished this year. Amongst his pas­sions, jazz is in a good place. His view on cre­ativ­i­ty and cre­ative impro­vi­sa­tion is more than relevant.

Jean-Fran­cois Georges is a grad­u­ate engi­neer from ‘Supaero’ (ENSAE-SUPRAERO)). He began his career at Das­sault as a flight test engi­neer. He then joined the tech­ni­cal depart­ment and took part in the Mer­cure, Mirage 2000, Her­mès and Rafale pro­grammes, among oth­ers, and became a recog­nised spe­cial­ist in safe­ty and flight con­trol prob­lems. He was Gen­er­al Man­ag­er of Civ­il Air­craft until his retire­ment in 2003, he then chaired the Aéro-Club de France for eight years. He is also an author. «I inher­it­ed three rather per­va­sive pas­sions from my par­ents, but I have tried to sat­is­fy them through­out my life. There are planes, moun­tains and music. I was lucky enough to be able to make one of them my pro­fes­sion, which made things eas­i­er,» he says. For him too, the air­craft of tomor­row will have to take into account the cur­rent con­cerns of experts in the field: bud­getary con­straints, fuel econ­o­my, noise pol­lu­tion… and at the same time sat­is­fy what remains a fun­da­men­tal com­po­nent of trav­el: speed. What will the air­craft of the future look like? It will prob­a­bly adopt new shapes, for exam­ple very large fly­ing wings…? Will there still be a pilot in the plane? Will the sky be inhab­it­ed by sci­ence fic­tion machines? 

An artistic vision of creativity 

«Can you imag­ine that we can have with­in engi­neer­ing schools, like UTC, a train­ing which arous­es the stu­dents’ capac­i­ty for inno­va­tion, their cre­ativ­i­ty? In the com­pa­ny, say­ing to a small team: «Go ahead, let your­self go», means: «Impro­vise, fol­low your inspi­ra­tion with what you know to try to invent some­thing. «If you leave it to the basic engi­neers that the schools train, for exam­ple, and I was one of them, you end up with this extra­or­di­nary fact that every­thing is always the same. You only have to look at the car indus­try, which has a cer­tain monot­o­ny in its engi­neer­ing. The vehi­cles all look the same. Remem­ber when the R16 and DS19 came out in the French indus­try. No two rolling objects are so dif­fer­ent. At that time there were few­er pro­to­cols and more calls for cre­ativ­i­ty. Accord­ing to Jean-François Georges, the flaw in the cur­rent indus­try is that it lacks cre­ative dar­ing. This is why the idea of UTC to work on this field of cre­ative impro­vi­sa­tion res­onates with him. «Look at the air­lin­ers. Unless you’re real­ly in the busi­ness, it’s hard to tell them apart. Not to men­tion the Chi­nese and the Rus­sians who arrive with exact­ly the same planes. It would be good to add a bit of impro­vi­sa­tion in there too, yes. You have to let peo­ple impro­vise. Cer­tain­ly give them a frame­work and tell them to go ahead! 

«Improvisation is first of all culture, an education» 

For the for­mer pilot, the crash-land­ing by pilot Ches­ley «Sul­ly» Sul­len­berg­er, in 2009, on the icy waters of the Hud­son Riv­er, thus sav­ing the lives of the 155 pas­sen­gers on board, is a mag­nif­i­cent exer­cise in impro­vi­sa­tion. An air­line pilot may have to impro­vise when every­thing is per­fect­ly in order with check­lists and pro­ce­dures. But not every­thing goes accord­ing to plan. «Frankly, when both engines stop just after take-off from La Guardia, you have to have the idea of land­ing on the Hud­son any­way. Impro­vi­sa­tion is first of all cul­ture, an edu­ca­tion. In my hum­ble opin­ion, the great­est impro­vi­sa­tion in the his­to­ry of aero­space is epit­o­mized in Apol­lo 13. You can’t imag­ine any­thing worse. With the scale of this inci­dent, they must sure­ly die. NSA brought them back alive thanks to a huge amount of rapid impro­vi­sa­tion», illus­trates Jean-François Georges. Talk­ing about impro­vi­sa­tion in the indus­try is scary at first, in a world used to process­es, pro­to­cols and oth­er meth­ods. «How­ev­er, when we explain to non-musi­cians what real impro­vi­sa­tion is, name­ly some­thing very well defined, strict and par­tic­u­lar­ly demand­ing, espe­cial­ly in jazz music, that it is some­thing that enrich­es cre­ation rather than a slack­er, indus­tri­al­ists can under­stand this and take it on board. 

What about collective improvisation? 

A busi­ness company’s cap­i­talised knowl­edge is an ide­al breed­ing ground to stim­u­late cre­ativ­i­ty. And this is the case in a great many activ­i­ties, notably aero­nau­tics and space. «This notion of impro­vis­ing togeth­er in the busi­ness world seems essen­tial to me. It is ambi­tious. It doesn’t mean doing any­thing. It’s one of the most pow­er­ful ways of gen­er­at­ing cre­ativ­i­ty”. Busi­ness lead­ers can under­stand this today. It means know­ing a whole range of tech­niques. I watch myself as a musi­cian impro­vis­ing. Giv­en my age, I have accu­mu­lat­ed a lot of musi­cal mod­els, con­scious and uncon­scious har­mon­ic tran­si­tions. I’m just bring­ing out things I’ve heard and assim­i­lat­ed. It’s not a spon­ta­neous, ex nihi­lo cre­ation, but a pro­pos­al that goes look­ing every­where in your cor­tex for things acquired in the past, con­cludes the author. It’s a recre­ation, a regurgitation!

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