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SAMPE Conference & Exhibition

Keynote: Hybrid-Electric Airplanes with Human, Gas Turbine, and Fusion Power

Tuesday, April 18 | 8:00 AM - 9:30 AM

John S. Langford, III
Founder and CEO

John #2 5X7.JPG
John S. Langford, III
Founder and CEO of
Hybrid-Electric Airplanes with Human, Gas Turbine, and Fusion Power

Tuesday, April 18 | 8:00 AM - 9:30 AM

Electric cars are a rapidly growing part of the transportation system.  What about electric airplanes? Do they make sense too? In this talk, we begin with a human-powered airplane called Monarch, the winner of the Kremer World Speed Prize in 1984.  Monarch was a hybrid-electric plane, coupling human energy with batteries to achieve a top speed of 23 miles per hour (Mach .03).  Almost 40 years later, key members of the Monarch team are developing the Electra eSTOL, using better batteries and a small gas turbine to carry nine passengers in and out of spaces the size of a football field.  The same team is flying hybrid-electric aircraft using energy collected from the sun, the first and only practical fusion reactor for aircraft use. Despite these impressive advances, there are strong reasons to believe that electric propulsion in aircraft will remain a specialized market for many years to come.  Aiming to provoke critical thinking, this talk will explore the context, potential, and challenges of electric-powered aircraft flight.

John Langford is the founder and CEO of, a new company developing hybrid electric aircraft for regional mobility.  He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a past President of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Langford is an aerospace entrepreneur who founded Aurora Flight Sciences in 1989, Athena Technologies in 1998, and in 2020.  Aurora pioneered advanced robotic aircraft, Athena developed advanced flight control solutions, and Electra is developing sustainable aviation solutions for regional mobility.  Athena was sold to Rockwell Collins in 2008 and Aurora was sold to Boeing in 2017.  Langford currently serves as Chairman and CEO of Electra.

A native   of   Atlanta, Georgia, Langford earned his Bachelors degree in Aeronautics & Astronautics (1979), Masters in Aeronautics & Astronautics (1984), Masters in Defense Policy (1983), and Doctorate in Aeronautics and Public Policy (1987) 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 in 1988 shattered the world distance and endurance records for human-powered flight with a 72-mile flight between the Greek islands of Crete and Santorini.

Prior to starting Aurora, Langford worked for Lockheed Corporation as an engineer on the development of the F-117 stealth fighter, as an intern at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and as a research Staff Member at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA).   

In 2018, Langford was named as the Aviation Week Philip J. Klass Lifetime Achievement Laureate. In 2014, the National Aeronautics Association (NAA) awarded him the Cliff Henderson Trophy for “significant and lasting contributions to the promotion and advancement of aviation and aerospace in the United States”. He has also received the DeFlorez Prize from MIT (1979), the Kremer Speed Prize from the Royal Aeronautical Society (1984), the Young Engineer of the Year award from the AIAA National Capital Section (1989), the National Tibbets Award for outstanding contributions to the SBIR Program (1996), the Barry M. Goldwater Educator Award from the AIAA (2000), Virginia’s Outstanding Industrialist award from the Commonwealth of Virginia (2004), and the NAR President’s Award for Exceptional Service (2008) and the Howard Galloway Award (2014) from the National Association of Rocketry.

Langford was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2018.  He is a Fellow in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), served as President from 2018-2020, and then served two years as Chair of the AIAA Foundation. He is also a Fellow in the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), and has served on academic advisory boards at MIT, the University of Maryland, Mississippi State University, and Ohio State University. He has served on the Board of Directors of the NAA, the Executive Committee of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) (2012-2015), and the Institute Development Committee (IDC) of the AIAA. Langford served on the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) (2011-2015) and chaired its Subcommittee on Unmanned Air Systems. He has served on several study committees for the National Research Council. In 2015 he was named by the Governor of Virginia to chair the Virginia Commission on Unmanned Systems.  He currently chairs the National Research Council’s Aeronautics Research and Technology Roundtable.

Langford is a lifelong aeromodeller and a passionate STEM education advocate, with memberships in the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) and the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). He has been a competitor or U.S. team manager in twelve space model world championships and serves as the U.S. space modeling liaison to the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI). In 2018 his family purchased Estes Industries, the world’s leading manufacturer of model rockets and model rocket engines. In 2019 he was elected as a Companion of Honour by the FAI as  “a symbol of the respect and appreciation that the sporting and recreational aviation community has for your extraordinary contributions to aviation”.


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