NASA Administrator Charles Bolden paid a visit to NASA's Langley Research Center Friday, May 10, to observe hands-on research making air travel more efficient and safe.
"What I came down to see today was the tremendous progress that's been made in our collaboration with the FAA and the Department of Defense on what we call NextGen — or Next Generation Air Transportation System," he said.
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NASA Langley aerospace engineer Randy Bailey talks to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, left, about the Synthetic Vision (SV) and Enhanced Vision (EV) systems in a flight simulator at the center's Cockpit Motion Facility. Credit: NASA/David C. Bowman
At the Air Traffic Operations Lab, NASA Langley aerospace engineer Will Johnson briefed Bolden on Air Traffic Management Technology Demonstration-1 (ATD-1), which will allow aircraft arriving at airports to safely fly closer together on more fuel-efficient routes.
"This is an unprecedented technology development activity by NASA for the flying community," Johnson said to Bolden, who then watched as researchers, including a United Airlines pilot, ran a simulation of cockpit technologies for ATD-1.
Bolden noted the ATD-1 technology will save air traffic controllers from having to do some of the "mental gymnastics" once common to their profession.
"The workload for pilots and air traffic controllers, and the comfort for the passenger, is all markedly improved by what's being done here — incredibly innovative work," he said.
Bolden also had an opportunity to try out the Synthetic Vision (SV) and Enhanced Vision (EV) systems at the Cockpit Motion Facility. SV is a computer-generated image of external topography from the perspective of the flight deck. EV uses special imaging sensors to give pilots the ability to see natural and manmade features in low-visibility conditions. Bolden, a former naval aviator and astronaut, used the systems to successfully land a cockpit simulator in heavy fog.
"I heard it was a smooth landing," said Lisa Rippy, branch head for the Crew Systems and Aviation Operation Branch, as Bolden exited the simulator.
"Well, any one you walk away from is good," he responded, laughing.
After the tour, Bolden said he thinks the future of NASA Langley is "very healthy."
He drew particular attention to the center's Vibrant Transformation to Advance LaRC (VITAL) program, which he said is indicative of "very conscious decisions" about the center's future by Center Director Lesa Roe and the NASA Langley leadership team.
"You just look at the facilities around here and the construction that's going on and you'll know this is not a place that's just wondering about its future. They're actually taking hold and charting their own future," he said.
He also talked about potential areas of growth at NASA Langley, including collaboration with industry in advanced composites. Right now, he said, it takes too long to get a new composite from the lab to an airplane. But he believes NASA can offer solutions to that problem.
"We want to help industry develop new methods that will speed the process," he said.
Bolden addressed sequestration as well, and said he's an "eternal optimist" who believes that President Obama and Congress will work out a solution to the federal budget. Given the hypothetical scenario of sequestration affecting the work being done at the Air Traffic Operations Lab, though, Bolden was both blunt and complimentary in his response.
The airline industry, he said, "cannot afford to be without the types of innovation they have here for very long."