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NASA Working To Improve Aviation Security

Michael Braukus
Headquarters, Washington
(Phone: 202/358-1979)

Kathy Barnstorff
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
(Phone: 757/864-9886)

March 12, 2003

RELEASE: 03-090

Collage of images to represent NASA’s Aviation Safety and Security Program Collage of images to represent NASA’s Aviation Safety and Security Program

NASA researchers are looking at ways to adapt developing aviation technologies to improve aircraft and passenger safety and security.

NASA’s Aviation Safety and Security Program (AvSSP) is focusing on areas where NASA’s expertise could make significant contributions to hardening, or increasing the protection of aircraft and their systems; secure air space operation technologies; improved systems to screen passenger and cargo information; and sensors designed to better detect threats.

"NASA wants to use its decades of aeronautics research know-how to make airliners and passengers more secure. We're looking at long-term, futuristic technologies that could be built into next-generation aircraft designs as well as trying to determine how new technologies might be able to be incorporated into current airplanes," said Beth Plentovich, Aviation Security project planning lead at NASA’s Langley Research Center (LaRC), Hampton, Va., which manages the AvSSP.

Initially much of the effort will center on aircraft and systems hardening. Some of the research will look at an airborne operational concept that would automatically keep airplanes away from national landmarks, security targets and other "protected areas."

NASA demonstrated one such concept, an automatic protected area avoidance system, using its Boeing 757 Airborne Research Integrated Experiments System (ARIES) aircraft in Nov. 2001. Engineers integrated two aviation safety technologies, under development at LaRC; to create an automatic protected area avoidance system on the ARIES.

Researchers adapted "refuse to crash" computer software being developed by the Aviation Safety Program's Single Aircraft Accident Project. They combined it with a 3-D computerized terrain cockpit database created by AvSSP's Synthetic Vision Systems project.

During the demonstration, the 757 flew over NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, but on synthetic vision screens inside the aircraft, it looked like the plane was flying approaches into Reagan National Airport in Washington. As the plane neared one of four protected areas built into the simulation, a warning dome appeared over the landmark on the experimental synthetic vision cockpit display. The dome changed from yellow to red the closer the pilot got to the protected area. If the pilot didn't steer clear after the red warning was shown, the "refuse to crash" system veered the plane away.

"The experiment on board NASA's 757 was just a demonstration of a hypothetical concept. To implement this kind of system in today's airline operations would be very challenging. Much more research is needed, but the flight showed that new technology could some day help improve aviation security," added Plentovich.

Other security applications include technology to detect and track unusual air traffic movements. That work builds on technology for air traffic management decision support tools deployed as part of the NASA Airspace Systems Program’s Advanced Air Transportation Technology project managed by NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. NASA will also conduct research into the development of a system to report security incidents.

The NASA AvSSP is a partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), aircraft manufacturers, airlines and the Department of Defense that supports a national goal to try to reduce the fatal aircraft accident rate by 80 percent by 2007.

Researchers at four NASA field installations are working with the FAA and industry to develop advanced, affordable technologies to make flying safer: Langley; Ames; Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.; and Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio.

For more information about the NASA AvSSP on the Internet, visit:

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