SFTE Annual Symposia: Identifying our Strong Point’s Weakness

by Panos Vitsas

This article first appeared in the September 2018 Flight Test News.

Undoubtedly one of our Society’s strong points (if not the strongest) is the Annual Symposium, which is organized every year to give our members the opportunity to share their work, learn from other flight test programs, and network with other flight test professionals. This year we are heading for 49th Annual SFTE Symposium, proving that our Society keeps its tradition marching strong from its birth in 1968 and offering hope for a very promising future. 

Personally, I have attended four of the last five Annual Symposia and I have witnessed the very good technical content and professional environment.  I have always been impressed by the amount and quality of work put in by the organizing chapters to make the event happen. Yet in discussions with other members of the Society, I get the feeling that in each and every Symposium there are certain points that we can improve. 

Let’s examine things from the start. SFTE has adopted the approach of circling the Annual Symposium around local chapters each year, in contrast to other Societies which have a dedicated place to hold their equivalent event.  The idea behind this circling is that this strengthens the host chapter in terms of membership and finances. This does really seem to work. So each SFTE Chapter gets to organize the Annual Symposium roughly every eight years or so. 

Here is where one of our major challenges lie.  The organizing committee is almost never the same, and in my opinion, the lack of continuity that comes with this limits us in a couple of ways.  First, the organizing committee has to go every year through a learning curve–sometimes reinventing parts of the wheel or other times receiving no guidance and being left to its own judgment. Second, each Annual Symposium is like a flight test program, it ends up with some lessons learned, which unfortunately are not communicated to members organizing the events in following years. 

How can we improve? We have discussed the need for a Symposium Organizing Guide that would include guidelines and the necessary steps to organize an Annual SFTE Symposium.  Such a document would vastly assist the organizing committee, communicate effectively the lessons learned, and contribute to higher quality symposia. The reason we do not have such a document, as with so many things, is our lack of time.  I believe it is time to make this a priority—find the time and get started at least with a basic version. We have some members with great experience in organizing such events and their knowledge needs to get documented and passed to others.   This way our strongest point will become even stronger and SFTE members will benefit from and enjoy our Annual Symposia even more.

This article first appeared in the September 2018 Flight Test News.

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