Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America

From Leadership Profile: Vertiflite Spring 2007

Paul W. Martin, Senior Vice President, Government and Advanced Development Programs, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation

When Paul Martin joined Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in April 2000, the only production programs were the mature military UH-60L and commercial S-76. Since then, the company has brought new UH- and HH-60M Black Hawks, MH-60R/S Seahawks, International Naval Hawks, and the new-generation S-92 to production. Paul Martin now oversees simultaneous development programs for the MH-92, CH-53K, Singapore ASW/ASUW Naval Hawk, and several upgrades to existing aircraft. In Schweizer Aircraft, he has a rapid prototyping organization building the X2 high-speed compound helicopter demonstrator, unmanned air vehicles, light helicopters, and fixed-wing reconnaissance aircraft. Company-wide, Sikorsky has also embarked on a digital design and manufacturing transformation that integrates global partners. “I think the company is now very robust,” says Mr. Martin. “We wanted to bring the company processes and adherence to processes. We did that.”

Paul Martin was born in Nevada City, California and spent his high school years working part-time for a Northern California company that converted old combat aircraft into firefighters. “I flew in everything with two seats that came out of WW II and could be converted to a borate bomber,” he recalls. “I also flew many general aviation aircraft.” His continuing interest in flying machines drew him to an engineering career. “My bad eyes kept me out of pilot training, so I made up my mind to go to Edwards Air Force Base as a flight test engineer.”

With his goal set, Mr. Martin enrolled at California Polytechnic University. He says, “It was in my view, and is still, the best engineering school in the west, and maybe the nation.” While a Cal Poly undergraduate, Mr. Martin earned his pilot’s license. He also joined the American Helicopter Society for the first time before graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1968 and landing his dream job at Edwards. “I had a big gap in my AHS membership just because I got inattentive working on all those fighters. . . I’ve always had an intense interest in helicopters. I’ve got a lot of hours in them, mostly in conjunction with Air Force or Federal Aviation Administration test pilots.”

At Edwards from 1968 to 1975, Mr. Martin worked on a range of Air Force test programs including the Bell HH-1H and UH-1N helicopters. He served as deputy test force director for the F-15. “I was exposed not only to every aircraft but to every aircraft manufacturer over all those years that I was working for the government.” He adds, “I would recommend that to young people today. If you go to work for one company right out of college, it’s very difficult to understand the cultures of all the people involved in aviation.”

The Air Force sent Paul Martin to Washington to work with the FAA on civil certification issues surrounding the Concorde supersonic transport and YC-15 Advanced Medium STOL Transport. “The fact is, I kinda went to the FAA kicking and screaming because I was flying fighters – F-104s, F-15s.” The regulatory assignment was nevertheless rewarding. “I gained a lot of respect for the rule-makers. I learned a lot about how hard their job was, and how hard it was to maintain safety relative to all their constituents from airlines to individual pilots to the air traffic control system. They had to balance it all.”

During Mr. Martin’s time with the FAA, McDonnell Douglas sought to type-certify the YC-15 military transport as the commercial DC-12. The engineer-turned-rulemaker worked with NASA Ames Research Center to formulate rules to certify a transport aircraft that flew routinely below its power-off stall speed. “I spent a huge part of my time in those years promoting aviation and trying to figure out ways for people to do new things rather than ways to keep people from doing new things to aircraft.”

A spell with the FAA Western regional headquarters in Los Angeles saw Paul Martin work on the type certificates for the Robinson R22, Hiller UH-12E, and Hughes 500D. “I actually spent a lot of time in helicopters before I got buried in the Skunk Works at Lockheed,” he says. FAA work also included helping with the certification of the Boeing 757 and 767 and conducting the Lockheed L1011-500 certification test program. “In the governance side of the business, I really spanned a fairly large chunk of aviation, certainly in airspeeds if nothing else.”

A 1980 promotion to FAA national resource specialist nevertheless meant an end to flying and a cue to transition to private industry. Paul Martin left government for the legendary but secretive Lockheed Skunk Works in 1981. “I wasn’t brand new to this very black world of very few participants, but when I first went to the Skunk Works, it epitomized a small team of people working together. Everybody who is involved has to operate in a highly integrated team.” He adds, “When you get behind locked doors and restrict access to whatever is going on, a small group of people can accomplish almost anything.”

Paul Martin joined the Skunk Works as deputy director of the engineering flight test division and in 1983 became chief engineer on the YF-22 Advanced Tactical Fighter program. During his Lockheed years, he also served as deputy program manager for the SR-71 Blackbird, program manager for the F-117 Stealth Fighter, and vice president for all tactical aircraft programs. Mr. Martin notes that many organizations try to emulate the Skunk Works. “The lesson they just can’t get right is you must severely control access, not because you hate people, but because that helps to promote that kind of very small, high-performance team behavior.” Paul Martin reached the position of executive vice president of the Skunk Works when he decided to retire from Lockheed and return to helicopters.

Cal Poly alumnus Dean Borgman became president of Sikorsky Aircraft in October 1999 with an eye to new programs and hired Paul from the dynamic Skunk Works. Mr. Martin explains, “I was in that environment for 20 years, and I’ve been trying to create that environment here at Sikorsky for the last seven years.” As vice president of research and engineering, Mr. Martin set out to coalesce Sikorsky development programs into smaller groups focused on performance. In December 2000, he committed to certifying the new S-92 in 24 months. “I didn’t know at the time how to do it. I just knew that it had to be done.” The commercial transport helicopter was certified three days early and to new standards of helicopter safety.

The emphasis on new programs remains important in a dynamic business environment. Mr. Martin explains, “We’re very, very proud of the Black Hawk heritage, but we need to be able to do exactly what we did when the Comanche was terminated. We need to be able to suffer the loss of an aircraft program without missing a heartbeat. . . We did not suffer after the Comanche termination. We just put the people to work on the new programs.”

New programs drive new technologies. According to Mr. Martin, “Clearly the greatest emphasis we have going right now, the closest to maturation is fly-by-wire.” Sikorsky has four fly-by-wire systems in flight test or development for the UH-60M, X2, MH-92, and CH-53K. Expanded use of composite materials has taken on broader implications. “It’s not composites as much as it’s advanced manufacturing methods.”

High-speed machining, digital design, and other manufacturing innovations formalized by the global S-92 are leading Sikorsky’s industrial transformation. The company has set up engineering design centers at the University of Kentucky, Purdue University, and the University of Montana at Bozeman, a systems integration center in Fort Worth, and satellite engineering facilities in Patuxent River, Maryland, and Huntsville, Alabama. With 3D design tools and global communications networks, Sikorsky engineers in domestic or international offices can practice round-the-clock engineering, relaying work at the end of each workday to other time zones. “We hope to cut cost and cycle time with that initiative,” says Mr. Martin.

Sikorsky established successful international design and manufacturing partnerships for the S-92 program, and it continues to partner abroad on the International Black Hawk, Armed Black Hawk, and other programs. “Sikorsky’s very much about globalization,” says Mr. Martin, “and if partnerships are part of that globalization, that’s fine with us.”

Sikorsky has also acquired its own rapid prototyping organization in the Schweizer Hawk Works. Schweizer managers, engineers, and craftsmen flew the Fire Scout UAV with a fourth main rotor blade just 90 days after the decision was made. “That would be a one- to two-year process here at Sikorsky,” notes Mr. Martin. “That was a company that represented to me the Skunk Works.”

The company-funded X2 demonstrator is a product of the Sikorsky Hawk Works, improving on the Advancing Blade Concept (ABC) that Sikorsky demonstrated in the 1970s. According to Mr. Martin, “We really believe in it. We really believe we’ll be flying at 250 kt soon. We really think we have technologies today that will be able to overcome the problems of the past with that concept.”

The US rotorcraft industry faces stiff competition from European manufacturers with technology underwritten by their governments. “Some of their composites work is just eye-watering,” admits Mr. Martin. He nevertheless points to Sikorsky’s advances in digital fly-by-wire controls and other areas of helicopter design as proof of a vibrant US technology base. “I think the next major thing I’d like to see us do is get rid of the helicopter swashplate.”

While the US government’s Joint Heavy Lift initiative is debated and NASA had previously eliminated rotorcraft research and development funding, Mr. Martin says, “The US government in total is very, very supportive.” He adds, “I would like to see a lot more work done on a new, fuel-efficient engine.”

Paul Martin earned his Master of Engineering degree from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1984. He is a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, Flight Test Engineers Curriculum. He is also a member of the Dean’s Advisory Committee for the Schools of Engineering of the California State Polytechnic University, the University of Southern California, and the University of Connecticut.

The strength of the US rotorcraft industry remains skilled engineers, and Mr. Martin remains actively engaged in promoting engineering education. “The only issue I have with the young kids today is getting enough of them interested in engineering.” Mr. Martin finds new engineering graduates well prepared to use CATIA V5 and other computer-aided engineering tools in industry, but he adds, “I still believe in the California Polytechnic way – you use your hands. You actually touch the built aircraft – real things – that prepares people best for what happens when you graduate.”