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June 29, 2000

John Bluck

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

650/604-5026 or 650/604-9000

Ron Wilson

San Francisco International Airport




A two-story NASA airport simulator that can evaluate planned airport changes recently won an award for the most significant contribution to aviation safety and efficiency in the western United States.

The simulator, called "FutureFlight Central," can create "virtual airports" in its computer mind to permit air traffic controllers and planners to test new airport designs and modifications of future and existing airports. The facility is a walk-in, full-scale, 360-degree simulator that can realistically test runways, landings, ground traffic and many other airport factors in a realistic, computerized world.

"We recognized those within the industry who have made significant contributions to the safety and efficiency of the air traffic system," said Neil Bennett, Director of the Western Regional Air Transport Association of America, Inc., (ATA), Los Angeles, CA. ATA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) presented the forum in June in Reno, NV.

"Engineers can identify future problems and can try solutions in a safe setting, the computer's virtual world," said Nancy Dorighi, who manages the FutureFlight simulator at Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, about 25 miles south of San Francisco. Dorighi made a presentation about the new NASA simulator during the forum.

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.

"The FutureFlight Central team is especially honored to receive this award from the airline industry because of the major role they have in guiding technology advancement within the air transportation system," Dorighi said. "I see this as a strong vote of confidence for NASA to continue to apply its expertise in information technology to civil aviation problems."

During the forum, NASA announced that the first airport customer scheduled to use the FutureFlight Central simulator is San Francisco airport (SFO), one of the country's largest and most complex. The airport is planning changes to increase its efficiency in an attempt to reduce delays that now plague the airport during bad weather.

"We can represent any airfield in existence or as planned for the future," Dorighi said. "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."

"NASA's FutureFlight Central hopes to save airports costly design errors by permitting planners to easily experience different, highly realistic versions of their airport designs 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 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.

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:

The June ATA/FAA Reno workshop addressed the special needs and requirements of airspace users including airlines, general aviation, business, the military and others.



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