| Before we went to Hawaii
to begin flight tests on the Pathfinder solar-powered
airplane, we knew we needed the support of the local community
there. Otherwise it was going to be a struggle to achieve
any of our goals.
We'd chosen the island of Kauai because of the favorable
conditions there for high-altitude flight tests and also
for the opportunity to perform demonstration science missions
over areas that were uniquely undisturbed by humans. But
to take advantage of these conditions, we had to overcome
obstacles that were far more down to earth.
For one thing, no one had ever gotten permission to fly
an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in FAA airspace there
beyond the site of the operator. While we could conduct
our high-altitude test flights without leaving the airspace
controlled by the Navy, to perform the science missions
planned over the island we needed to operate in FAA-controlled
|It was a
culture where your personality always took you further
than the size of your billfold.
In a place like Kauai, where the locals are faced with
a combination of a high cost of living and few jobs at
the professional level, coupled with a highly desirable
environment that prompts many to want to find a way to
live and work there, there is a natural apprehension about
outsiders. In spite of a natural desire to be as helpful
as possible, there is a sense of past exploitation, and
it is important to be sure that an inappropriate (if unintended)
impression isn't made. It helps to find someone who can
serve as your entree into the community. In that way,
Dave Nekomoto was our man in Kauai.
Dave is a fourth-generation Japanese-American, born and
raised in Hawaii. He was a former Executive Officer at
the Navy base where we were conducting the flight tests.
Like a lot of the Kauaians we met, Dave had more than
one job. Primarily, he was the manager for the local branch
of a support contractor on the base. In addition, he worked
with the Kauai Economic Development Board in trying to
bring more technology-based jobs to Kauai. He also worked
as the Director of Operations and helicopter pilot for
a local land owner, Mr. Bruce Robinson, whose family is
a longtime sugar cane producer in Kauai. The Robinson
family owns a third of the island of Kauai.
Dave flies helicopter tours over the Hawaiian Island of
Niihau, which is owned by Keith and Bruce Robinson. This
private island, Niihau, was determined to be one of only
a few options where our fragile aircraft could make a
contingency landing on terra firma, making the difference
between recovery and loss of the unique aircraft, if an
emergency landing had to be made. One thing Dave did for
us was smooth the way with Mr. Robinson so that we could
land on Niihau if we needed.
|No one on
the Pathfinder team had a Sinatra voice, but we
managed to get everyone to sing something.
Dave also was our "ace" chase pilot, flying a videographer/photographer
to document the flights with air-to-air shots near the
islands. More importantly, Dave introduced us to the unique
culture of Kauai and the Pacific Missile Range Facility
(PMRF) where we operated, and helped us "fit in" and establish
a good rapport with the local community.
|The Pacific Missile
Range Facility, Barking Sands, Kauai.
Dave did favors like this because he liked us and considered
this type of support part of his job(s). That was the
main ingredient we found in any business dealings we did
on Kauai. It was a culture where your personality always
took you further than the size of your billfold. With
Dave we endeared ourselves to him right away because among
other things, we devoured all the tasty food he and his
friends Vince and Johnny cooked for us in their giant
(and I mean GIANT) woks, and we sang with him.
Yes that's right, we sang.
Dave had -- how shall we say -- a thing for karaoke. Anybody
who was tight with Dave spent time with him at his house
singing. This was Dave's way of relaxing at the end of
the day, and he had quite an elaborate setup at his place
for it. Microphones, speakers, and acoustics any garage
band would kill for..., plus, he must have owned every
song ever recorded. The lyrics flashed across a television
screen, so all you had to do was punch a button on a computer
and there was the song, sans vocals, of course. It was
up to you to fill them in, and heaven help you if you
No one on the Pathfinder team had a Sinatra voice, but
we managed to get everyone to sing something. Even those
who were painfully shy managed a few lines of "Happy Birthday."
It was all in good fun, and more importantly, it showed
we had the "right stuff," in that we weren't afraid to
risk embarrassment and that we all trusted each other
with our most important possession, our egos.
not possibly overstate the importance of these karaoke
nights at Dave's.
One could not possibly overstate the importance of these
karaoke nights at Dave's in terms of their bearing on
the success of our project. Dave invited many folks from
the base that we worked with each day. Also, the whole
NASA and AeroVironment team was there, along with spouses,
children, and other friends who had come over for a visit.
It brought the team together and it made friends with
our Hawaiian and military hosts. Without Dave's karaoke
parties we probably still would have eventually ingratiated
ourselves with the community, but developing a social
relationship certainly broke the ice and formed a basis
From Dave we learned things about Kauaian culture that
we didn't know beforehand, for instance, the utmost regard
Kauaians have for those who educate their children. Hence,
in planning our marketing strategy on the island -- yes,
we had a marketing strategy, don't you have one for your
project? -- we developed educational programs in the schools
and put together displays at the local museum. We ourselves
helped to write the lesson plans and NASA Public Affairs
Education Outreach professionals led training workshops
for the teachers to show them what we were doing so that
they could share this with the kids.
The Kauai Community College sponsored a solar powered
racecar, which was a jewel in their crown of technical
achievements. We involved the community college by hiring
students to work for us at PMRF, exposing them to advanced
solar technology by being part of our team. This was done
on Dave's advice and he put us in direct touch with the
right people at the college -- it helped that his brother-in-law
is the Dean of Instruction there. Working with the base
commander and public affairs office, the NASA and AV team
orchestrated an open house that brought in approximately
1000 local schoolchildren to see the Pathfinder, its payloads,
and key parts of the PMRF support equipment. We jokingly
called this event the "1000 Kid March," and the name sort
of stuck. It was tremendously successful, and students
and teachers from across the state participated in this
over the coast of Kauai.
The community, to put it immodestly, fell head over heels
in love with us. "This is a good thing," people were saying.
"These people are doing something special." That kind
of talk has a way of making things happen. Dave was quick
to let Hawaii's political machine know what was going
on with our project at PMRF, which resulted in Hawaii's
entire congressional delegation sending a letter to NASA
commending us on the success of our program. Suddenly,
money that hadn't been available before appeared, and
this gave the project some extra lift, so to speak, making
our attempts at a world-record altitude flight a viable
goal. Also, people on the island who worked at places
we stayed, places we ate, and the airline and car rental
agencies all got to know many of the team members. When
we had to make travel arrangements that were subject to
change with events in our flight schedules, this relationship
proved very important.
By the time we left, every Kauaian knew about Pathfinder
and what we were trying to accomplish -- and, more importantly,
they were behind us a hundred percent. To vouchsafe this,
we made sure that they felt like Pathfinder was as much
their project as it was ours. Everyone on the island was
welcome to come out and see the airplane. In busloads
they did. When we broke the world record, we held a flight
celebration and invited all of our hosts and PMRF support
personnel to join us at one of the parks near the base.
We provided all the food and entertainment. It was a bash.
Indeed, nothing paid off more for us than cultivating
friendships in the community. A small example of this
is the day after the big celebration. When we got to the
base the next morning and discovered a problem with our
phone system, within ten minutes someone was there and
it was fixed. A bigger example, of course, is we got the
permission we sought to fly outside FAA airspace. We managed
to accomplish this with less red tape than we were required
to go through at our home base in California.
I'm sure the cynics will look at this and say all we were
doing was wooing the community to get what we wanted.
For those inclined to see the world this way, you can
bet they make little distinction between a friend and
an asset. The way I see it, we had friends on the island;
if they were assets too, that's beside the point. We enjoyed
sharing our accomplishments with everyone who wanted to
be part of the team. The world record was all of ours.
|We came to
Kauai not knowing exactly how the human dimension
would figure into our activities.
Many times in our projects we think that just being smarter
than someone else or having the best idea is all we need.
That helps, no doubt, but you've got to understand the
human side of things. We came to Kauai not knowing exactly
how the human dimension would figure into our activities,
but we knew whatever way it worked itself out was going
to be critical to our success. That's why we set aside
money in our budget specifically for the kinds of activities
described here. Call it marketing, but by the time we
left Kauai, we were probably spending up to 20 percent
of the project time on it.
Bottom line, people are the most important part of any
operation. None of us can do much by ourselves; it is
only with the help of others that we do great things.
It is important that we recognize our interdependence
in any enterprise, and the earlier we do it, the easier
things are, and the better they work.
|None of us
can do much by ourselves, it is only with the help
of others that we do great things.
Certainly, a lot of factors contributed to our success
in the skies above Kauai. No doubt one very important
factor is that the people of Kauai felt invested in our
success and wanted to do whatever they could to help us
reach our goals. Whatever advancements derive from our
work on Pathfinder, the support of the Kauaians who helped
make it possible must never be forgotten. And, our man
in Kauai, Dave Nekomoto, was our guide in finding that
support, walking us through blessings, celebrations, traditions,
culture, sharing with us his local contacts and mana'o,
the Hawaiian word for wisdom.
- Cultural differences can impact the success of a
project, and it behooves the Project Manager to learn
how best to work with unique cultures.
- Soft is hard. All sorts of "crazy ways" of cooperation
affect project success.
- When in Rome, behave like the Romans. Adjust to
the demands of the local culture, even if it means
Would you please share an example in which you sang karaoke
(figuratively) to the benefit of your project?
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Morgan has recently retired as Vice President
of AeroVironment, Inc., where he established the
Design Development Center in 1980 -- the division
of AeroVironment that develops and produces its
aircraft -- and served as Director until April 2000.
Mr. Morgan has overseen more than 75 projects and
the development of over 50 unique vehicles, including
over 35 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. During his tenure
at AeroVironment, Inc. AeroVironment has been globally
recognized as a pioneer in solar-powered and electric
aircraft, and has placed 5 of its vehicles in the