New pilot for aerospace

John Sankovic, MSE ’03, PhD ’06, wants to help the Ohio aerospace industry retool for a new era


Bringing university research to the factory floor is not a new idea, but John Sankovic thinks it’s a formula Ohio’s aerospace industry must rediscover if it is to soar in a new age of commercial aviation.

The Case-trained engineer hopes to lead a re-launch of a vital manufacturing sector.sankovic

Sankovic, who earned his doctorate in biomedical engineering from the Case School of Engineering, in September was named president and CEO of the Ohio Aerospace Institute.The nonprofit research center promotes Ohio’s aerospace industry, in part, by tapping the research power of the state’s doctoral-granting engineering schools. 

The flags of CWRU and eight other Ohio universities fly in its soaring lobby, in a futuristic-looking building next door to the NASA Glenn Research Center, behind Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. By building partnerships and sponsoring research, the institute has helped to support a successful if unheralded aviation industry. 

Ohio is the largest supplier of parts to both Airbus and Boeing, two of the world’s largest airplane manufacturers, Sankovic said. The supply chain  creates tens of thousands of jobs at advanced manufacturers ranging from giants like GE and Parker Hannifin to tech startups and family-owned machine shops. 

But the needs of the industry are changing, much like the auto industry, Sankovic warns. The airlines are moving toward hybrid engines and fuel efficiency. For Ohio manufacturers to keep pace, he says, they are going to need new and stronger ties to university research labs. 

“It’s a white space of new opportunity” requiring new propulsion systems, advanced materials and new kinds of engines, he argues. “They have to be made somewhere. Why not here? We have the manufacturing expertise. And NASA’s increasingly significant in that area, too.” 

Sankovic, who holds four engineering degrees, brings uncommon insight to this niche. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Akron, his MBA from Cleveland State University and his master’s and doctorate degrees in biomedical engineering from Case. 

He worked for 31 years at NASA Glenn, rising to the position of Chief Technologist and Director of the Office of Technology Incubation and Innovation before walking next door to the institute, which views him as a prized catch. 

“John is Ohio's shining star in aerospace,” Board Chairman Dennis Irwin said in a statement. 

The 51 year old leads a staff of about 55 people, many of them researchers imbedded within Nasa Glenn or the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. They do modeling of advanced aerospace systems, materials research and other studies, and push out their findings to industry and universities. 

Sankovic wants to get his consortium of schools behind a push to design “electrified aircraft,” which will require advances in energy storage. That will tap the expertise of groups like the Great Lakes Energy Institute at the Case School of Engineering. It will also, he says, require engineering schools to devote more energy and resources to aerospace. 

“I really do see a need to strengthen the aerospace component of our universities,” he said. “We’ve lost a little bit. Many are not as active as they could be.” 

He notes Ohio’s universities and the aerospace industry were once so tight,  the president of Case Institute of Technology, T. Keith Glennan, left campus to run NASA as its first administrator. 

It’s time for another aerospace age in Ohio, Sankovic said. He’s eager to play a role in leading it.

Learn more about the Ohio Aerospace Institute at