Bianca Rhodes, owner and CEO of Knight Aerospace, is blazing a new trail as a woman leader in STEM, driving success that sets her business apart among aerospace companies.
Rhodes is serving as a powerful example for other women seeking a career in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields.
Rhodes was named 2021 Woman of the Year by the San Antonio Business Journal. The prestigious honor recognizes the role Rhodes has played in transforming the aerospace transportation industry with revolutionary products and a rapidly growing workforce.
“I’m a super advocate for STEM education and spend a lot of my free time focused on it,” Rhodes said in an interview with San Antonio Woman. “I think it’s amazing what we do now and how we expose children to different careers. And I think the earlier, the better, because it is hard when you don’t have that in your natural surroundings.”
As the leader of Knight, Rhodes is transforming the way its customers, mostly military clients, transport people, especially sick patients. Its products stand out among competitor aerospace companies.
Innovative Aerospace Transportation Solutions for Military Planes
The company designs and builds modules for use in military cargo aircraft and ground support equipment. Their modules include medical units that can easily be loaded on and off cargo planes.
The medical units can be modified to reflect the number of patients (up to 8) and include wall-mounted or litter-based medical equipment, vibration controls, and noise-dampening equipment.
Their flying surgical suite can include operating tables, critical care beds, anti-movement devices, and self-contained systems. In addition, Knight offers an aeromedical biocontainment module, which includes a self-contained space to keep flight crews protected, separate patient and staff areas, rapid decontamination procedures, and telemedicine capabilities.
“Our specialized roll-on units are loaded onto aircraft to help safely transport the military, humanitarian relief organizations, and private clients,” Rhodes explains. “It’s literally a room that rolls onto the back of cargo aircraft, and it locks in to go anywhere. The medical module is really a flying hospital room.”
Other modules can be configured for VIP or general passenger transport and include kitchen and lavatory facilities. The modules are designed to roll on and off planes quickly and can be used in multiple military plane types.
The leader among aerospace companies also provides an extensive array of ground support equipment, including fuselage supports, cargo ramp supports, performance-testing equipment, dollies, storage and loading fixtures, slings, and assemblies for use on military equipment.
Knight’s success is in no small part thanks to the CEO.
A Career in Leadership Roles
Rhodes earned a bachelor’s degree from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas. She started her career in commercial banking with the National Bank of Commerce in San Antonio.
“I was the first on either side of my family to go to college,” she says. “Neither of my parents finished high school.”
She later worked for TexCom Management Services, a computer leasing company, where she successfully led its sale to Intelogic Trace, where she served as chief financial officer.
Later, she served in the same role for Kinetics Concepts Inc., a global company that makes medical technology for wounds and wound treatment.
Before Knight Aerospace, she founded CrossRhodes Consulting, advising private businesses on finance and operations.
When the youngest of her three children went to college, Rhodes decided to make another change. In 2014, Rhodes launched Knight Aerospace Medical Systems, contracting with the older Knight company to design the medical modules.
In 2017, using savings and a small amount from investors, Rhodes purchased Knight Aerospace Products and merged the company with her own.
In 2020, the company moved to a technology campus in Port San Antonio, giving Knight Aerospace access to other aerospace companies, along with defense, manufacturing, and cybersecurity businesses.
Recognized for Her Role in Growing Aerospace Companies
In recognizing Rhodes, the San Antonio Business Journal hailed the work Rhodes did to grow the company, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic was raging.
Knight doubled its workforce during the year to 60 employees. Much of that growth was to make the specialized medical modules for government customers, including the Royal Canadian Air Force, which received its first biocontainment unit in 2020.
Rhodes serves on the boards of Dura Software Inc., Intuity Medical, and Lawson Products Inc. She’s an active volunteer for multiple organizations, including Any Woman Can, the Dee Howard Foundation, and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
A Commitment to Staff Diversity in Aerospace
When Rhodes created the merged company, there was one woman employee — the receptionist. One of her priorities was to establish a better gender balance. Today women are working as administrators at various levels, aerospace mechanics, engineers, and managers.
A Trailblazer for Women in STEM Roles
Rhodes is among a small number of women in STEM positions — and in even rarer company, given her leadership role. The gender gap is not uncommon in technology companies and growing the number of women working in STEM fields is critically important.
While women make up about 47% of the workforce, according to federal government data they comprise only about 27% of the STEM labor force.
There are some encouraging signs, however. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 48.1% of all biological scientists and 32% of chemists and material scientists. The issue persists at the root, however. For example, while women obtain 58% of all bachelor’s degrees conferred, in STEM fields, they earn just 36% of bachelor’s degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=899).
As opportunities for women seeking a career in STEM fields continue to grow, it will be the work of women like Rhodes at Knight Aerospace who have cleared the path.
“You always want to do something that inspires you, that makes you passionate, that makes you excited about getting out of bed in the morning,” she told San Antonio Woman. “If you don’t have all of those things, you need to be rethinking where you’re at.”