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June 20, 2000

John Bluck

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

650/604-5026 or 650/604-9000



A synthetic airport, created in the computer mind of a two-story NASA simulator, will help San Francisco airport, one of the country's largest and most complex, plan changes to increase its efficiency.

The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) Commission has selected NASA's FutureFlight Central, the world's only walk-in, full-scale, 360-degree airport simulator, to evaluate new tower positions, runway configuration and aircraft movements before new construction begins.

"NASA's FutureFlight Central hopes to save airports costly design errors by permitting them to easily experience different, highly realistic versions of their airport design and, most importantly, observe how real people work inside these future environments," said Dr. Paul Kutler, deputy director of the NASA Ames Information Systems Directorate.

The virtual simulator is located at Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, about 25 miles south of San Francisco. The facility can house as many as a dozen air traffic controllers, and it can represent the busiest U.S. airport towers in size and capability.

"NASA's FutureFlight Central allows SFO to preview potential tower locations before any concrete is poured," said Peg Divine, Deputy Airport Director for SFO's Air Field Development Bureau. "This is part of SFO's continuing commitment to deploy the appropriate technology advances to address our rising air passenger levels as well as decrease delays."


Airport officials say they chose the NASA simulator to help plan airport changes to increase both efficiency and total air traffic capacity. Using the one-of-a-kind airport testing facility, SFO airfield planners, Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers and others will help to select the best location for a new tower.

"Engineers can identify future problems and can try solutions in a safe setting, the computer's virtual world," said Nancy Dorighi, who manages the facility at Ames.

The simulator's artificial world changes in real time. Scenes evolve, in the same manner that real-world changes occur. In the computer world, airplanes not only come and go, but weather changes. Consoles are at each controller's location showing radar, weather maps, runway lights and touch-screen controls as well as other readouts.

"We are able to represent any airfield in existence or as planned for the future," said Dorighi. "We can measure the impact of a change on the airport's capacity, and let the controllers try it first-hand, all before anything is built."

After putting a new airport data set into the computers, FutureFlight researchers can switch to the new artificial airport in moments. Rearranging furniture in the simulator will take longer than activating a new computerized airport, NASA technicians noted.

Other unique features of NASA FutureFlight Central include: capability to move the tower "eye point" to any location, including a "pilot eye view"; precise controls to simulate weather, time-of-day, cloud coverage and lighting; a voice and data communication network, allowing ground-to-tower and air-to-tower human interaction; and video record and playback, allowing analysis of human performance and decisions. More FutureFlight information is on the Internet at:


Attention Broadcasters: On June 20, 2000 (and perhaps on June 21), NASA TV will distribute a "video file" report via satellite related to this story. Please check the NASA TV website for the latest schedule at -- The NASA Video File normally airs at noon, 3:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m. and midnight Eastern Time. NASA Television is available on GE-2, transponder 9C at 85 degrees West longitude, with vertical polarization. Frequency is on 3880.0 megahertz, with audio on 6.8 megahertz. For general questions about the video file call NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC: Ray Castillo 202/358-4555 or Fred Brown 202/358- 0713.

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