'Flight School' kicks off in Phoenix
Flight School is new for space and aviation, which doesn't yet have a single gathering where pioneers and entrepreneurs can talk strategy, tactics and experience, whether in space and aviation or in the Internet computing industry. It follows from the premise that the aerospace industry is about to undergo changes as dramatic as the transitions from mainframes to PCs and from the science/R&D/military Internet to today's vibrant, commercial, vulgar World Wide Web. And like Net entrepreneurs, those in the new world of flight will meet resistance from the old guard (read "legacy airlines for mainframes and discount carriers for the minis".) Air taxis will be to the aviation old guard what PCs are to mainframes. And space tourism will appall the purists of old just as e-commerce annoys the scientists.
That transformation will create the same kind of opportunities and open up the same kind of capabilities for personal, user-controlled exploration of new territory. It will also create great discontinuities in established business models and living patterns. That's what Flight School will explore.
A number of IT people have already wandered into the air: Vern Raburn, formerly of Microsoft, Lotus and Symantec, now runs Eclipse Aviation. Jeff Bezos has Blue Origin, his mysterious rocket company. Elon Musk, co-founder of Paypal, is behind SpaceX, and Adeo Ressi of Game Trust is Chairman of the Strategic Planning Committee for X Prize, a $10-million prize awarded to SpaceShipOne for bieng the first private company to launch individuals into space on a reusable vehicle. And then there's a host of PC-industry angel investors (including Esther Dyson herself) in Zero-Gravity, the weightless flight company. Esther's father, physicist Freeman Dyson, led the Orion Project in the '50s; that was a government-funded attempt to build space ships powered by small nuclear explosions. Ever since (and actually before), he has promoted the notion that small, private projects are likely to be more effective than giant, top-down efforts in space - as in computers. And finally, Esther is a member of the private-sector advisory board that is advising the Federal Aviation Administration on its Next Generation Air Transportation System National Plan.
This conference may turn out to be as seminal as PC Forum itself, which began in 1977 as a spin-off of Ben Rosen's Semiconductor Forum. Dyson is hoping to kick off the same kind of long-term success with Flight School, and that it will be the kind of event people remember years later. They hope to have about 100 attendees.