Annual Symposium and Banquet Update

In the long list of the hardships being felt world-wide from the COVID-19 pandemic, the travails of A. J. “Face” McFarland and his entire S&B Team to date are appreciated by the Society, but minor in global comparison. For those of us looking forward to the camaraderie of our annual get-together, including the opportunity to compare notes with kindred souls from around the world, hear the latest from professionals across the spectrum of flight test, and honor members for both singular and lifelong accomplishments, the 2020 Annual Symposium (S&B) had the potential to be a celebration of both our profession and our return to normal life. Sadly, it cannot happen. As Society President, I can assure you that this is a profoundly painful email to send. But, as a long-time member and flight test professional, my heart is warmed by the hope and pride I feel for our Society and the many good people who have worked so hard in the last few months to keep the 2020 S&B possible. In the end safety has been prioritized over desire – which if you think about it is a hallmark of our profession.

In summary, the physical S&B cannot happen and has been cancelled. The S&B Team will shift their efforts toward a virtual symposium and ensure that Society business, including recognition of professional achievement, is not disrupted.

There will be many questions, so I will try to address the most important issues here.

First, a practical matter; if you have hotel reservations with the Disney Resort through the SETP group rate link, please do not cancel them online or call the hotel to do this. The Disney Reservations Desk will take care of this automatically and inform you directly. If you want to go to Disneyland in lieu of the S&B, the group rate will not apply and you will have to book your room through the regular Disney website.

Laurie and our professional staff have been amazing through all of this. They have kept the Society running smoothly while working almost entirely at home and dealing with the difficulties that the pandemic has brought to them personally. They have also worked diligently with Disney to adjust S&B plans so that we would be ready to go if the pandemic situation allowed.

The amazing event planners and hosts at Disney have always been there for us and have been conscientiously preparing to make an event happen if at all possible. For them, as for all of us, everything was changing on a daily basis. When Disney announced a re-opening plan for their parks and hotels just a few days ago, the situation came into focus and they informed Laurie—with heart-felt sadness—that they could not accommodate our event. I cannot know the ins and outs of Disney’s business decisions, but I imagine that the effort and mitigations necessary to safely open the park to tens of thousands of guests and keeping thousands of Disney cast members employed and supporting their families, simply made accommodating our gathering impossible. They did all of this at no charge to us and are anxious to help us craft an amazing event next year. I truly believe that the folks at Disneyland—without question the best at what they do—correctly perceive us as their colleagues; world-class experts dedicated to a difficult, important, and rewarding profession.

Everything that must happen during the annual S&B will happen. We will find a way to present annual awards, our new Fellows will become Fellows, the Presidency and Board of Directors will change hands, and the necessary business of the Society will be accomplished. Face and his team, relieved of the substantial burden of planning the social events of the S&B, will shift their focus to these tasks. Your Board of Directors has decided to hold the technical sessions on-line. Jameel “Chocolate” Janjua, a man who apparently needs neither sleep nor stasis, will shift from running the Symposium to making the technical sessions both educational and interactive. Please keep your calendars free so that you can join us!

I have had the honor of standing on the stage at the Banquet and accepting the accolades of my colleagues. I am determined—and Mike “Sting” Wallace with me—that we will not deny that experience to this year’s honorees. I hope that this year’s class of Fellows and our 2020 award winners will plan to attend next year’s Banquet so we can properly celebrate their accomplishments.

Finally, the S&B team will be looking for sponsors to fund the online content and the additional work needed to respond to this year’s changes. Sponsorship—which is not tax-deductible in the US—is not limited to Corporate Members; any member can become a personal sponsor, either named or anonymous. Thanks to the difference between the costs I incur at the S&B and the frugal official travel reimbursements provided to government employees (Lisa and I do not hold back), our family budget suddenly has some extra cash available which we plan on putting toward a successful online event.

The committee will keep you all updated as planning for online content this fall moves forward and would greatly appreciate any ideas you might have to improve this virtual event. Please send your ideas to Laurie Balderas (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

It is difficult for me to say how much I will miss seeing so many of you—my lifelong friends and esteemed colleagues—and how sad I am to announce the cancellation of our most important annual event. It feels like I’m cancelling Christmas! Nevertheless, I am confident that we are doing the right thing and that our Society is much more than the 2020 S&B. We are going to do our best to put together an outstanding online experience, but sharing lessons, mentoring, and professional fellowship can and will happen year-round in spite of what 2020 may throw at us!

Warmest Regards,


William Gray (F)

President, SETP Board of Directors