Commencement Address by Mark V. Rosenker
Vice Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
May 1, 2004
Chancellor Carroll, distinguished dais guests.. When asked to give this speech this morning, I knew this would be quite a challenge. First of all the instructors and staff are expecting the speaker to be substantive, the families and friends would like the speaker to be entertaining and the graduates of course would like the speaker to be brief. .I will do my best to make each group happy.
At 10:30 AM one hundred years four months and two weeks ago, Orville Wright piloted the first sustained controlled powered flight. Near by his brother Wilber used a stopwatch to time the flight. This first step into the world of heavier than air, powered flight lasted a total of twelve seconds and the fabric and woodcraft traveled one hundred yards. Three more flights were made that day; the longest lasted about a minute and covered almost half a mile. The wind swept dunes of Kill Devil Hills, near Kitty Hawk in North Carolina took their place in history that day. The Wright brothers had designed their own engine with the help of Charlie Taylor, a bicycle mechanic. Taylor built the engine to the meet the specifications of Wilber and Orville. In addition, almost nothing was known at that time about propeller design and Wilbur was the first person to recognize that a propeller is nothing more than a wing in the vertical, which creates lift when it spins and that lift could be directed forward for propulsion. Using this idea in conjunction with information he had gathered from wind tunnel tests he was able to create an incredibly efficient propeller. The Wright Brothers were the first to approach the flying machine as an integrated system that incorporated aerodynamics, structures, propulsion and flight dynamics. This aspect of their technology, although most often overlooked, was the most important reason aviation was able to advance so rapidly over such a short period of time. Even today, 100 years later, the Wright Brothers' concepts and principles of flight are as valid now as they were on that December day that changed our world forever.
Now you may say to yourself, "a hundred years is not really a short period of time". But think about it, amazing technological advances occurred, each one an enabler for the next and making possible the great industry we have today. In 1908, five years after the first flight, Glenn Curtis and the American Experiment Association, organized by Alexander Graham Bell, successfully built and flew the "June Bug" powered by a Curtiss designed engine. The "June Bug" won the Scientific American Trophy for being first in the United States to fly one kilometer. Two years later in 1910, Curtiss staged a flight down the Hudson River from Albany to New York City, a distance of about one hundred and fifty miles. Major advances in aircraft design followed with the outbreak of World War 1, when the airplane moved from just a curiosity to an innovative weapon of war. Following the armistice there came the age of the "Barn Stormer" and the Air Mail Pilot. Then on May 20th, 1927 Charles Lindberg departed Long Island New York and flew the first solo non-stop flight to Paris in thirty-three and one half hours. Two years before the "Lone Eagle's" solo flight in the Spirit of St. Louis, a school dedicated to aviation was born, the year was 1925 and the school was to become Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Douglas Aircraft gave us the DC-3, which affectionately became known as the "Gooney Bird" it took to the air on December 17th, 1935 exactly thirty two years to the day of the Wright Brothers first flight. In 1941 the United States was plunged into one of history's darkest periods, World War II. After a surprise attack on December 7th at Pearl Harbor, this nation's aviation industry responded with the B-17, B-24, B-25,B-29, P-47, F4F and the P-51 just a few of the aircraft that turned the tide of war in the European and Pacific theaters and brought "The Allies" ultimate and final victory over "The Axis" powers. The modern age of commercial jet travel was ushered in on July 15th, 1954 with the maiden flight of the Boeing 707 prototype. Then on July 20th, 1969, the human race accomplished its single greatest aviation technological achievement to date when Neil Armstrong took that "Small Step" into our collective future, as he stepped from the Lunar Module, "Eagle" onto the surface of the Moon. We now have the "Space Station", "Mars Rovers" and the "Space Shuttle". I ask... has any technology moved so fast as aviation and space technology? And at every turn, since 1925 there have been graduates of this great institution on the cutting edge of this incredible human adventure. Pushing the envelope, dreaming the dreams, making those dreams a reality. And doing it in a way that has instilled in this industry's culture, a serious commitment to safety and security that is embraced in all of its key elements: design, manufacture, operations and maintenance. Which leads me to an opportunity to brag a little bit about my organization and its role in making this industry an even safer mode of transportation. As Chancellor Carrell mentioned in his very kind introduction, I'm privileged to serve as the Vice Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB is an independent Federal agency charged by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States, as well as significant accidents in other modes of transportation - railroad, highway, marine and pipeline - finding the probable cause, and then issuing safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents. The Board is composed of a staff of highly trained investigators and technical experts representing each major transportation mode. In addition, there are five members of the Board appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate, each for a staggered term of five years. Board Members preside over the activities of the organization and are ultimately responsible for adopting the probable cause, final accident report and safety recommendations as board positions. In addition, the Board Members are the court of appeals for any airman or mariner having a license or enforcement action pending from the FAA or US Coast Guard.
Over its nearly 4-decade history, the NTSB has investigated more than 124,000 aviation accidents and over 10,000 surface transportation accidents. In so doing, it has become one of the world's premier accident investigation agencies. On call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, our investigators travel throughout the country and to every corner of the world, in the case of aviation, to investigate significant accidents and make safety recommendations.
The NTSB has issued more than 12,000 safety recommendations. We have no regulatory authority, nor do we initiate any enforcement action. Over its history, NTSB has earned a reputation for impartiality and thoroughness, which has enabled it to achieve tremendous success in shaping significant transportation safety improvements. I'm proud to say that more than 82 percent of NTSB recommendations have been adopted by Federal, State and Local government, as well as, manufacturers and operators, not only within the aviation community, but within the transportation industry as a whole. Many safety features currently incorporated into airplanes, automobiles, trains, pipelines and marine vessels had their genesis in an NTSB recommendation.
With all of its glorious history, the aviation industry in the United States can be particularly proud of its safety record. From the early lighted airways and efforts to develop the ability of pilots to control aircraft in instrument metrological conditions to today's global positioning systems and flight directors. The trinity of aviation's technological philosophy has always been; make it go higher, make it go faster, make it go safer. Of course you business majors would want to add; make it go more economical, but that's another issue. I believe the great success enjoyed by American aviation is in no small way do to the fact that the industry is populated by bright, energetic, talented, and committed professionals who not just care, but are passionate about aviation; people like you and the thousands of Embry Riddle graduates that have gone before you. I say this with great confidence. During my time at the NTSB, I've met many Embry Riddle graduates, many in the industry, military, some working with the Board and students serving as interns. I am extremely impressed with their knowledge, dedication and ability as well as their pride in their alma mater.
During the past three decades this great institution has grown significantly, almost at the same pace as the aviation industry itself. From a small school to .. an Aeronautical Institute to a University. From relative obscurity, to a world-renowned reputation as the institution to attend if you want to pursue a successful career in aviation. Just look at the tremendous changes that have taken place since I graduated from my school in 1969. During that time, your school was known as Embry Riddle Aeronautical Institute. It had a relatively small campus and about 2000 students located in Daytona Beach Florida. At that time the school had one permanent building, most of the classes were held in temporary wooden buildings that had been erected to house World War Two Army Air Corps Cadets. There were no ROTC programs, although many of the graduates were accepted into Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corp officer training programs. Courses of study were limited to Aeronautical Engineering, Aeronautical Science, Aviation Management, Professional Pilot and Aviation Maintenance. In 1968, there were only 6 women attending Embry Riddle. So times have changed, our society has changed. Look at Embry Riddle today. This campus was established a little over 25 years ago. As this University has taken its place as one of the top aeronautical schools in the world, it offers degrees in such diverse disciplines as Computer Engineering, Engineering Physics, Global Security and Intelligence Studies, Human Factors Psychology, Safety Science and Space Physics. Graduate programs in Aeronautics, Aerospace Engineering, Business Administration in Aviation, Human Factors and Systems, Safety Science, Software Engineering and Space Science. Embry Riddle is well known in military circles for the fine young men and women that come to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines from it's ROTC programs. Many in this class will be receiving their commissions this morning as second lieutenants or ensigns as part of this ceremony. This school is also well known for the "Extended Learning Programs" that were establish in 1970, these programs have been an invaluable resource for the military, keeping our first line of defense abreast of the latest technology and helping them advance in their careers.
The responsibilities shouldered by the men and women of aviation are far too great to be taken on casually. If the traveling public ever perceived that flying is not safe, the industry will collapse and you will not be successful.
You can imagine my delight, upon arriving yesterday at the Prescott Campus to take a tour of the Robertson Aviation Safety Center. My delight in knowing the young men and women of aviation's next generation, are ready willing and well equipped to take up the gauntlet and carry on the investigations that will ultimately make air travel safer for people of this nation and the world. Times change, issues will change. In just a little more than 30 years we have seen the birth and retirement of commercial supersonic travel. Several weeks ago we got a glimpse of the future when the SCRAM jet was successfully tested. It reached speeds of MACH 7, approximately 5000 MPH. What will that mean as you, the graduates of Embry-Riddle class of 2004, stand on the threshold of aviation's second century? New York to Los Angles, Los Angles to Honolulu or Washington, DC to London in under two hours?
Whether you are pursuing a career as a pilot, mechanic, engineer, air-traffic controller or in management, your first priority must be safety.
Congratulations and best of luck to the class of 2004.