April 22, 2020
Over the years, I got to see one of those kids’ faces quite a lot because Matt Lambton became my son’s best friend. They were inseparable and essentially lived in each other’s houses. As a result, our families grew quite friendly and familiar. It turned out that Matt had a brother, Michael, a really good kid. But he was a couple of years Matt’s junior, which among grade schoolers counted as a full generation behind. As such, he never became a regular visitor to our place. But thanks to our family ties, we were aware of his doings as he advanced through childhood and adolescence. However, once our kids were grown and gone, we moved to another state and lost touch.
Fast forward to the 2017 National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Regional Forum at Westchester County Airport. Matt Greene, then head of marketing (now president) at nearby Safe Flight Instrument Corp., is walking past me with several young men in tow. He sees me, stops and says he’d like to reconnect me with one of his new charges. I turn, curious, and there stands Michael, smiling. I learned that he was graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a mechanical engineering degree and that, thanks to another former neighbor, he was interning at Safe Flight. He started working at the company full‐time a few months later. So, to my quiet satisfaction, the former kid from up the street became an aviation colleague.
During the 2018 NBAA convention, I encountered Michael again at Safe Flight’s exhibit. He was there to demonstrate a synthetic clutch servo—think digital autothrottle with tactile stops—that he had helped invent. His name was on a patent, I learned, for the second time since joining the company. And just recently, his work came to my attention again.
To help ease the urgent shortage of personal protective equipment, Safe Flight started making face shields for emergency room personnel on the front lines of the battle with COVID‐19. But Chairman/CEO Randy Greene asked his managers if there was something more they could do. When Michael’s manager posed him that same question, he called his brother, Dr. Matthew Lambton, the former Little Leaguer turned emergency room physician at a Rhode Island hospital, who was very much in the thick of it. Michael’s question: Is there something more we can provide? “Ohhh, yeah!” was Matt’s instant response. More ventilators.
And so, the young aircraft systems engineer began researching medical technology and came to learn that, in extreme situations, ventilators could be divided or “split” for air/oxygen delivery to multiple patients. At his brother’s request, Matt overnighted ventilator parts for sizing and Michael came up with a splitter design that would enable a single ventilator to service one, two, three or four patients simultaneously. A team formed quickly to devise a production process using Safe Flight’s 3D printer and to ensure quality fabrication and material traceability. Once fast‐track‐approved by the feds, the company planned to begin shipping devices immediately and hoped licensees would do the same in quantity.
It is said that crisis speeds ingenuity. The elapsed time from Greene’s request for “something more” to product selection and the Quad/Vent Splitter’s original design was roughly 1.5 days.
And here’s the thing, Safe Flight is just one of many business aviation companies stepping into the breach. Piper, Textron Aviation, FlightSafety, Cirrus, Dassault, Gulfstream, NetJets, CAE, Avfuel, Duncan, Tecnam, VistaJet, PlaneSense and Universal Avionics are among the many within the community investing their time, talent, equipment and capital to help fight the pandemic even as the crisis wreaks havoc to bottom lines and shreds payrolls. We salute and thank them all.
So I’ve got answers to the “Guess what . . .?” question as applied to the Lambton brothers and those like them.
What will they become? Heroes. What will they do? Use their skills, intelligence and focus to save the world, one person at a time.
Bill has been Editor‐in‐Chief of Business & Commercial Aviation since 2000. During his stewardship at Business & Commercial Aviation, the monthly magazine has received dozens of awards for editorial excellence.