Budget reduces aeronautics research spending

 - January 31, 2007, 4:00 AM

While most of NASA is reaching for the stars, the segment of the agency that conducts aeronautics research here on earth has taken a budget cut for the second consecutive year following President Bush’s initiative to expand the exploration of space.

The White House has proposed $852.3 million for aeronautics research in FY2006, down from the FY2005 request of $906.2 million. That’s the good news; the bad news is that money for aeronautics research generally will continue to dwindle during the next four fiscal years.

NASA said the budget request for its Aeronautics Directorate “maintains top priorities” in aeronautics research, with $192.9 million devoted to aviation safety and security projects to decrease accident and fatality rates and $200.3 million for airspace systems projects to increase capacity and mobility.

The budget proposal would earmark $459.1 million for a restructured and improved vehicle systems program, which focuses on “breakthrough research” that pursues high-risk, high-payoff concepts beyond incremental research of interest to the industry and culminates in flight demos. But it eliminates almost all work in conventional subsonic aircraft.

NASA said its improved Vehicle Systems program also includes projects in noise reduction, high-altitude unmanned vehicles and an all-electric airplane, as well as a realignment of the workforce and facilities to best implement the new priorities.
Overall, however, the Aeronautics Directorate’s $852.3 million is a relatively small part of NASA’s total budget of $16.456 billion, which represents an increase of 2.4 percent over the $16.07 billion requested for the current fiscal year.

Aeronautics Research
According to the President’s spending plan, NASA’s major aeronautics activities for FY2006 are to successfully complete the Small Aircraft Transportation System demonstration program; develop strategic management tools for the National Airspace System (NAS); develop wake-vortex operation procedures and standards; demonstrate an information distribution system for flight operations quality assurance and aviation safety action program data; and select next-generation noise-reduction technologies for validation.

NASA pointed out that it carries out its aeronautics technology research in partnership with other agencies, academia and industry to ensure effective development and transfer of new technologies. As part of a national effort, NASA has supported the newly formed Joint Planning and Development Office to develop a blueprint for the Next Generation Air Transportation System.

“Using this blueprint,” the agency explained, “aeronautics technology conducts long-range research and develops/transfers technologies that will enable the transformed system by 2025.”

General Aviation Projects
NASA listed several recent accomplishments. Among those of interest to general aviation are efforts to create aviation synthetic vision, reduce sonic booms and improve the efficiency of the NAS.

NASA said that it performed complementary simulation and flight-test evaluations of low-cost forward-fit and retrofit synthetic vision system (SVS) technologies for general aviation aircraft. The SVS creates an artificial, computer-generated view, based on a detailed database of terrain and man-made features. “Results from this effort demonstrated the efficacy of SVS displays to eliminate a primary cause of GA controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents and greatly improve pilot situational awareness,” the agency said.

Noting that sonic booms have been one of the limiting factors for routine supersonic flight over land, NASA said its joint program with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Northrop Grumman–using a modified F-5 fighter–may enable a generation of supersonic aircraft that are far less disturbing to the public. The research would likely benefit Supersonic Aerospace International and Aerion, each of which announced plans for a supersonic business jet at last year’s NBAA Convention.

The Advanced Air Transportation Technologies project has developed air traffic management decision-making technologies and procedures that enable greater flexibility and efficiencies of the NAS, according to NASA. Over five years, the project developed, demonstrated and transitioned several active decision support tools to the FAA.

The Multi-Center Traffic Management Advisor, which allows controllers to manage arrival flows across multiple routes and arrival points more efficiently, is one such tool. NASA said an analysis of the project shows it achieved its goals by increasing terminal throughput by 35 percent and increasing en route throughput by 20 percent.

The agency also said that it made substantial progress in developing aeronautics technologies that will support a 21st century air transportation system, including the Hyper X (X-43A) scramjet that flew at nearly Mach 10 on November 16 and the Rogue Evaluation and Coordination Tool, tested at the Washington and Fort Worth centers to detect aircraft that are deviating from their expected flight paths.