Safety Through the Storm

By Suzanne Kubler

Imagine this scenario:

Lightning flashes across the sky as severe weather threatens mission completion for a U.S. military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) collecting critical data and images. The UAV must stay close to — without crossing — a geopolitical line, but a thunderstorm looms in its path. If the UAV doesn’t pick the correct route, the storm could destroy it. Or the UAV could move too far from the target and fail to complete its mission. What to do?

Luckily, Northrop Grumman Safety Systems Fellow Daniel Plawecki not only knows the right answer — he created it.

In 2022, he and two colleagues patented a software process that offers the UAV a way to safely navigate both the thunderstorm and geopolitical boundaries while successfully completing the mission — no small feat.

“Creating innovative technologies and getting them patented for the company furthers our collective mission to solve the tough problems that are facing today’s turbulent world,” said Daniel.

This is just one of more than 30 invention disclosures Daniel has submitted during his career, half of which were awarded patents.

“Here’s the secret sauce: when there’s a problem, there’s likely an invention to solve it. The trick is to figure out where that innovation resides,” said Daniel, who is based in Melbourne, Florida. “It’s not always complex. Some inventions are a very simple idea that’s novel.”

Seeking Safety

Since joining the company in 2010, Daniel has created safety systems of all types, ranging from a method to reduce dependency on already-saturated radio communications to software that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to avoid losing an air vehicle to dangerous ice accumulation during flight. He said a solid safety program keeps the company moving in the right direction.

“If you’re going to build a product that’s offered for use in a public domain, whether it's in a civilian or defense environment, it’s so important that we’ve taken the right steps to ensure its safety and that those steps are well documented,” said Daniel.

Many of Daniel’s inventions are focused on mission safety, and he said he sees himself as a protector. For him, this means using his lifetime of experience to pay it forward to Northrop Grumman and his colleagues — including his son, Engineering Manager Nathan Plawecki, who co-wrote the UAV navigation patent.

“Everybody says I have safety in my blood because of my dad,” said Nathan.

Sharing the Wealth

Daniel said another aspect of his role as a protector is knowledge sharing. While it's always been important to him, he said a recent cancer diagnosis — for which he’s currently receiving treatment — brought that mission into clearer focus. Now more than ever, he is prioritizing sharing his expertise with generations to come.

Just like helping guide a UAV through a storm, Daniel wants to offer others a roadmap to help navigate and avoid future problems. It’s one of the reasons he’s passionate about sharing best practices with Northrop Grumman programs through Nimbus, the company’s home for digitally capturing engineering processes.

“As you go through these life events, you realize that at some point you're not going to be with the company. And the best legacy that you can leave is having transferred your knowledge so that it lives on,” said Daniel, who calls Northrop Grumman his home.

For Daniel, success is measured by how many people he can take under his wing — and the larger that number, the more successful the mission.

“The winner is not who dies with the most patents, but rather how many others you’ve shared the innovation process with. This is how knowledge is proliferated,” said Daniel. “For me, that’s where the true reward comes from.”

Life at Northrop Grumman

Your work at Northrop Grumman makes a difference. Whether you want to design next-generation aircraft, harness digital technologies or build spacecraft that will return humanity to the moon, you’ll contribute to technology that’s transforming the world. Check out our career opportunities to see how you can help define possible.

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