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Spotlight on Volunteers: Northrop Grumman's Rob Hughes Reflects on his RTCA tenure
Friday, March 31, 2017
by: RTCA Staff

Section: Volunteer Spotlight

Rob Hughes, Senior Policy Adviser for the Office of Independent Airworthiness at Northrop Grumman
Rob Hughes is the Senior Policy Adviser for the Office of Independent Airworthiness at Northrop Grumman. While his office is relatively new, having been created a little over three years ago, it is increasingly busy, developing systems that integrate both manned and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Among these are the high-endurance platforms Global Hawk and Triton, and the tailless flying wing system, Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator, which Rob says recently completed a successful autonomous air refueling as well as launch and recovery from an aircraft carrier.
In his role at Northrop Grumman, Rob provides subject matter expertise for airworthiness and certification to help the company understand how well its aircraft comply with industry standards, and how reliable they are overall. This is of special significance to Rob as his work explores how manned and unmanned aerial vehicle systems will interact with each other in the National Air Space (NAS). 
“My role is to interface appropriately with standards organizations, regulatory, and key influential policy organizations that influence and shape the regulatory environment,” Rob says of his work with RTCA and Northrop Grumman. “If you were to think of it as the scout for the big ship navigating across the ocean—the scout is looking for the mine fields to minimize the rudder deflections to help the ship successfully navigate efficiently.”
Based on his analogy, it might not be surprising to hear that Rob is a 27-year veteran of the Air Force. This experience, he says, makes understanding how airplanes behave second nature to him. It also gave him insight into RTCA and its work within the aviation community long before he began volunteering with the organization. When he finally had the chance to begin working directly with RTCA 10 years ago, it was in a more limited capacity than now. But with the rise of UAV systems, he has become more heavily involved in the last few years with, among others, Special Committee 228, which is preparing unmanned aircraft standards, and the Drone Advisory Committee (DAC).
"Rob has contributed to impressive outcomes for standards for TCAS, PBN, and UAS,” says RTCA President Margaret Jenny. “Most recently, he has stepped into a leadership role on the DACSC’s Task Group 2, helping to bridge the gap between manned and unmanned aviation stakeholders. He is a rare individual with strong engineering expertise and leadership skills.”
When asked why his involvement with RTCA, and the DAC in particular, is a high a priority for him and his company, Rob cited Northrop Grumman’s increased commitment to developing functional partnerships with other stakeholders in the NAS, including new perspectives. He says the company aims to “participate actively in the formation of industry standards to share expertise and knowledge with the aviation community.   Non-traditional aviation companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook don’t know the traditional airspace structures, so their perspectives are not limited by the traditional constraints associated with understanding how airspace works,” Rob says. “It forces the whole group to get back to basics and reexamine the foundation of the NAS; to think about what was the original impetus for this set of policies and what are the potential impacts of a modification to them.”
Exploring new ideas and perspectives is a large part of what makes his work with RTCA so enjoyable, says Rob. While the DAC is busy balancing the needs of airlines with those of emerging players in the NAS, it is also motivated by its timetable for developing final UAV recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration in October. As a result, he says he and his colleagues are in a sprint to develop the programs and deliverables that the DAC and its Subcommittees need to choreograph to show the FAA that the industry is making progress on UAV integration.
“It's hugely challenging, but working with these super-bright people—it’s really inspirational for an old guy like me to hear something that I haven’t thought of before,” Rob says. “It’s also cool to see how the younger engineers appreciate the old guy’s perspective and ability to structure the work that we’re dealing with...there’s structure and direction that our experience can give to the enthusiasm of the youth.”
Rob would like to give a special thanks to his colleague Doug Davis, who directs the Northrop Grumman Office of Independent Airworthiness. Additionally, he extends his thanks to the leadership at RTCA and the FAA, whose team—including Lynn Ray, Earl Lawrence, and Jim Eck—goes to great lengths to assist the efforts of RTCA and the industry. Finally, Rob extends a special thanks to RTCA Program Director Claudia Chaudhari, whom he says works tirelessly to support the work of the DACSC and its subsequent Task Groups.