Colloquium: 2018-06-05

The Road to Advanced Autonomous Air Transportation

John Langford

June 5, 2018 at 2:00 P.M. in the Pearl Young Theater
(video within Langley firewall only)


It’s been over 50 years since the golden age of air travel pushed the concept of a flying car into popular culture. The glamour of the jet age has since been replaced with long lines, overbooked flights, and lost luggage. Exacerbating the problem is a continuing pilot shortage leading to frustration across commercial and general aviation. Only now with the advancement of vertical takeoff and landing do we find ourselves closer to a new era of air travel that can reclaim some of the independence that defined air travel of the 50s and 60s.

This discussion will examine how the limitations of the 4 broad classes of air travel today are positively advancing the concept of point-to-point electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) travel within the general public. We will also examine how solving the challenges of VTOL operations – by application of novel configurations – will open a new, lucrative market for autonomous air transportation.


John S. Langford is the Chairman and CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation, which he founded in 1989. Langford received his Bachelors, two Masters, and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). While at MIT Langford organized and led a series of human-powered aircraft projects, culminating in the Daedalus Project, which shattered the world distance and endurance records for human-powered flight with a 72 mile flight. He has received numerous awards including the Cliff Henderson Trophy from the National Aeronautics Association, the DeFlorez Prize from MIT, and the Kremer Speed Prize from the Royal Aeronautical Society. Langford is a Fellow in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and was elected President for the 2018-20 term. Langford served on the NASA Advisory Council and chaired its Subcommittee on Unmanned Air Systems. In 2015 he chaired the Virginia Commission on Unmanned Systems.