"Plug your ears, now!" Suddenly an F-18 roars overhead, engine thrust brilliant against the blue sky, loud enough to rattle your insides and drown out any thought or conversation.
This happens all the time at air shows. Aircraft take to the skies for hours —new and old, loud and quiet, big and small. The 2009 Paris Air Show was a great place to see them and, for the first time in a few years, to see NASA. After being away from the bi-annual show for a while, NASA hosted an exhibit and greeted thousands of visitors from all over the world during seven very busy days.
"Green" was a big theme at Paris—a perfect fit with NASA's goals to reduce aircraft noise, emissions and fuel consumption.
The first few days of the Paris Air Show were for trade visitors—representatives from companies, and other aviation and research organizations. Then the weekend arrived and with it the general public. Foot traffic and the flow of questions increased tenfold—"What is a composite?" "How can I get an internship?" "Do you think this kind of aircraft will ever really fly?" "What's a wind tunnel?" "How long has NASA been doing aeronautics?
Answers came from the Fundamental Aeronautics, Airspace Systems, Aviation Safety and Aeronautics Test program researchers who were on hand. Inside the fabric fuselage, visitors viewed models of future aircraft design concepts such as the hybrid wing body, a tilt rotor passenger vehicle, and a CESTOL, or, "Cruise-Efficient Short Takeoff and Landing" aircraft. Samples of different composite (nonmetallic) materials were also on display. Videos told viewers about the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, and about other technologies NASA is working on including self-healing materials, intelligent vehicle health managements systems, new air traffic management approaches and alternative jet engine fuels.
A new interactive touch-screen presentation about the contributions NASA has already made to commercial jetliners, general aviation aircraft, military aircraft and helicopters received a lot of attention. A group of American engineering students on a study abroad sped through the show, hitting button after button as they recognized the different technologies and aerodynamic principles. "Oh, yes, supercritical airfoil. I studied that." "Oh, here's the area rule. We studied that." "Thrust vectoring, cool." "Oh, right, natural laminar airfoil." They really knew their stuff!
Interacting with so many people in a few days is an intense experience. NASA is popular and people want to interact a lot. But talking about the ways NASA research benefits the public is critical. Aeronautics research also depends a great deal on partnerships with industry, universities, nonprofits, other government agencies and international partners. Reaching out through high-visibility venues like the Paris Air Show provides an opportunity to acknowledge current relationships and build new ones.
NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate