Creativity -- The birth of the MRMF


The Portuguese have a saying,  "Everything newly born is ugly."  Even the offspring of creativity is not spared this description.  Rarely does creativity present us with a baby that does not require bathing and much grooming before it can be presented to the critical world at large.  This is to be expected; and, as parents to this child, we must look ahead to its value as a mature design concept if we are to weather the day-in-day-out criticism of a skeptical aerospace community.

Accepting the notion that our baby, the MRMF, is likely to be quite ugly at first is important in this respect; it reduces the adverse effects of our ego getting in the way of important decisions that need to be made early on.  If ego is allowed to be a player, we would want to defend every aspect of our brain child regardless of  the value issues that confront us as we proceed.

Our goal now becomes making this ugly baby into something lovable.  The way to do that is to make every decision tentative and on the basis of immediate value criteria.  Tentative decisions may well be overruled later when system issues are taken into account; but, for the meantime, those decisions are accepted as viable candidates for long-term development.

It is important not to dismiss "design offerings" at this tender stage in creative thinking.  If we fall victim to the group think "everybody knows this won't work" or to the ego driven "this idea should not be considered because it conflicts with the idea that I fathered yesterday", then we cease to honor the creative process.  Ideas must not be summarily rejected until they have sufficient time to be evaluated with due consideration.

This calls to mind an event which took place in the early 1970s.  In a 4-way company competition, my flight control design, for a Navy Type-A VSTOL aircraft, was judged (by an evaluation panel) to be superior on the basis of simplicity, reliability and cost.  One of the other well known designers, who was responsible for the "company favored configuration", took to his feet and insisted that my design be rejected on the grounds that I lacked his seniority and experience to mechanize the proposed system.  Fortunately, the evaluation team was comprised of designers who could recognize the merits of the design in an objective manner, free of ego; in the final decision the numbers won the day.

These days, it seems to be entirely acceptable to "rig the game" in order for your brain child to be judged the winner in a competition. This may well be "business"; but, it is neither good business practice nor is it good strategic sense when national interests are at stake. God help us if reason can be extinguished in this way.


To be creative in the design of a modern day fighter, little needs to be taken for granted.  This is not to say that experience is to be discarded; but, if we start out with too many "givens", we may place ourselves right back "in the box" from which we hoped to escape.

Your "wise old men" in the actuator group resist the "trashing" of their years of involvement in traditional hydraulic systems layouts; they will fight tooth and nail to put aside consideration of electro-hydraulic systems. Electrical system designers will balk at the suggestion that flight control systems and mission dependent systems be located in segregated real estate--some internal and some external to the fuselage.  Engine designers will shudder at the prospects of integrating the flight and engine control systems.  Undercarriage designers will insist that landing gear be stowed internal to the fuselage.  EM and thermal signature experts will want primacy in decisions relating to the exterior lines of the aircraft.  Where does it all end?


There is a value in asking naïve questions.  The very questions themselves may contain opportunities for innovative approaches to classic problems.  The child who asked "Grandpa, why don't you plant hair on your bald head?" launched a new commercial enterprise in hair transplantation.  We have only to place ourselves in the role of a child who doesn't realize that there are some things that can't be done. Major hubris, this!

In our adult-like arrogance we feel that life has informed us regarding the possible and the impossible; but, this is walking on very thin ice indeed. I was born into a world where vacuum tubes reigned supreme in all electronic apparatus.  Today, the only vacuum tube that we see still being used is the one upon which TV pictures is displayed.  Even this technology is being challenged by other forms of electronic display, such as plasma and liquid crystal devices.

In 1936, a movie titled "Things to Come" simulated a huge flat panel display being used to project public service TV images above the city streets.  H. G. Wells hit the nail on the head in many respects in his books on this and other topics.  His imagination was never very far from the current scientific thinking of the day.

Who can say what creativity he sparked in the young minds of that time?  And, how did he do it?  He took the trouble to ask those naïve questions that others would later amplify. Others would then respond with an insightful question of their own --"Why not?"

"Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything."  George Lois "Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties."       Erich Fromm