With nearly 2 million lines of code and a host of futuristic technologies, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter isn’t the kind of product one designs with only a pencil and paper. But Bob Ruszkowski, a longtime aircraft engineer for Lockheed Martin (LMT) and its secretive Skunk Works lab, remembers when the company did just that.
“When I started here in 1985, we were still drawing new designs on drafting boards,” says Ruszkowski, now director of advanced air dominance, unmanned systems, and directed energy. “Today computer-aided design is commonplace, but it is still advancing in a lot of important ways.”
Advances in computing have given aircraft engineers a wealth of sophisticated new capabilities. For example, engineers once built separate models for different kinds of analysis—one to test an aircraft’s aerodynamic properties, another to test its potential radar signature, and so on. Today a single model can output data to various analysis tools simultaneously.
“Before, we would optimize the design of an aircraft in a serial fashion,” Ruszkowski says. “Now we are doing parallel optimization and looking at thousands of iterations within a very short period of time.”
Today’s aircraft engineers optimize designs faster than ever before. In the future technology will allow them to continue doing so even after an aircraft is in production.
“Imagine a point in time when you can change the features of an aircraft using 3D printing technology,” he says. “You can have an aircraft that evolves its capabilities over time.”
This article is part of the Future of Work article from Fortune’s July 1, 2016 issue. Click here to see the entire package.