Aerospace engineer Angelo Collins has been selected as the new executive director of the Vertical Flight Society (VFS), replacing outgoing leader Mike Hirschberg in June.
During a press briefing at HAI Heli-Expo 2023 in Atlanta, the two indicated to media that the change in leadership won’t result in a significant change at the organization.
In selecting the new executive director, Hirschberg said “the board really wanted to focus on [VFS’s] strategic vision, which is both helicopters and advanced rotorcraft, including eVTOLs.”
He said the board “liked my vision for the society. We codified that in a document, we published it, and the board found somebody that they felt was the most representative of that vision.”
And while Hirschberg may be stepping back from his role as executive director, the long-time leader of the organization will remain on staff as the director of strategy indefinitely. He said now with Collins at the helm, the two will work together to carry out the priorities of VFS.
“We basically have now split the workload between two people,” Hirschberg told media. “I’m going to enjoy working for Angelo just like he enjoyed working for me many years ago.”
The search for a new executive director started about six months ago when Hirschberg informed the board of his intentions to step down. He later announced his departure plans to the membership in December 2022.
“It has been the honor of my professional career to lead VFS since 2011,” Hirschberg stated in a press release. “I have poured everything I could into expanding it into the Vertical Flight Society. Now it’s time to pass the baton to lead the society into its next decade.”
Hirschberg regarded Collins as one of the pioneers of the eVTOL industry, having served as administrative chair of the first Transformative Vertical Flight (TVF) Workshop in 2014 — believed to be the world’s first meeting for eVTOL stakeholders. The event later evolved into what is now known as VFS’s annual Electric VTOL Symposium.
As a member of VFS since 2008, Collins has 15 years of experience in aerospace engineering, project management and technical consulting related to vertical flight. Collins most recently served as an aerospace engineer with Booz Allen Hamilton, managing the science and engineering technical assistance (SETA) support contract to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Tactical Technology Office (TTO).
He has been supporting DARPA/TTO in various roles since starting as an engineering intern with Centra Technology in 2008, when he was hired by Hirschberg who was a principal engineer at Centra at the time.
Collins also served as a program manager for Skyworks Aeronautics, leading a team of international engineers, analysts and lawyers in the development of the Hawk 5 Gyroplane.
Hirschberg noted the two share a similar professional background, and more importantly for the society, the same strategic direction for the organization.
As an aerospace engineer, Hirschberg spent more than a decade at Centra, during which time, he also served as managing editor of VFS’s Vertiflite magazine for 12 years. Prior to that, Hirschberg worked in the Joint Strike Fight Program office, supporting the development of the X-32 and X-35 vertical flight propulsion systems.
Founded in 1943 as the American Helicopter Society to support the early helicopter industry, Hirschberg led the rebranding of the organization to VFS five years ago.
Today, VFS is the world’s only international non-profit organization dedicated to VTOL aircraft and technology, now carrying out a similar role it played eight decades ago — helping to advance the revolutionary electric VTOL aircraft. The organization is currently tracking 788 eVTOL design concepts in its directory.
“Mike has done a fantastic job over the past 12 years,” said Tomasz Krysinski, VFS board chair and chair of the selection committee. “We are fully confident that Angelo will continue the society’s upward trajectory for years to come.”
In VFS’s 80-year history, Collins is only the seventh leader of the organization, making note during the press briefing that those chosen to lead the society have “been in it for the long-run.” Collins will lead the organization comprised of 6,500 individual members in industry, academia and government agencies globally, as well as 185 corporate and 30 educational members.
“I am truly humbled by the opportunity to serve as the latest steward of the society that I love so much,” Collins stated in a press release. “I appreciate the confidence that the board of directors has placed in me, and I look forward to serving the membership and expanding the global impact of VFS.”