Washington Report: FAA Tech Center now 'historic'

 - July 9, 2008, 7:07 AM

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) has designated the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center an AIAA Historic Aerospace Site for its pivotal role in creating the nation’s ATC system over the past 50 years.

The institute established the Historic Aerospace Sites program in January 2000 to promote the preservation of, and the dissemination of information about, significant accomplishments made in the aerospace profession.

Located near Atlantic City, N.J., the center has served as the core facility for modernizing the ATC system and for advancing programs to enhance aviation safety in all stages of flight since 1958. Center scientists have implemented critical programs, focusing on air traffic management, communications, navigation, airports and aircraft safety.

Now it is the primary facility for conducting the research, engineering and integration activities required to support NextGen.

Calling the Hughes Technical Center the nation’s leading federal laboratory for research, development, test and evaluation of air transportation systems, the FAA said its world-class laboratories and top-notch engineering expertise put it at the forefront of the agency’s challenge to modernize the U.S. air transportation system.

The facility has provided backup and field support when problems occur at airports and air traffic control centers, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is the focus and national backup for the nation’s traffic alert and collision avoidance system and enhanced traffic management system.

Some early technical center highlights include: automation data processing center work to automate air traffic control (1961); the first wake vortex turbulence test by helicopter (1963); the first operational testing of an automated en route air traffic control system (1966); the introduction of visual approach slope indicator to provide improved guidance to runways (1966); the first tower cab mockup to test controller work areas and do airport observations (1972).

Work conducted at the tech center has resulted in key aviation advancements in new technology for ATC, air-to-ground communications, weather detection, airport visual guidance, runway safety, aircraft surveillance systems, human factors, airport capacity, tower siting and RVSM, among other things.

The center contains laboratories, test and support facilities, Atlantic City International Airport and a non-commercial aircraft hangar in an area that covers more than 5,000 acres. The Hughes Technical Center’s laboratories include ATC and simulation facilities, a human factors laboratory, a fleet of specially instrumented flight-testing aircraft, the world’s largest full-scale aviation fire test facility, a chemistry laboratory for analyzing the toxicity of materials involved in a fire, radar test laboratories, structural panel test facility and the National Airport Pavement Test Facility.

The original Bendix Aviation Co. in Teterboro, N.J.; the Boeing Red Barn in Seattle; Kitty Hawk, N.C.; the site of the first balloon launch in Annonay, France; and Tranquility Base on the moon are among the other AIAA historic sites.

More Aerospace Funding Needed

Separately, the institute has urged Congress to support H.R.6063, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008. The bill would increase the NASA budget by $1.6 billion over President Bush’s Fiscal Year 2009 request, providing additional funding for several key NASA programs.

In particular, H.R.6063 would increase funding for NASA’s aeronautics research and development programs by $407 million, returning those programs to their FY 2006 level. It would also provide necessary additional funding to the agency’s space budget.

AIAA president George Muellner stressed that at a time when foreign competitors are increasing their market share, the aerospace sector is challenged to reduce its carbon footprint and fuel costs continue to escalate, it is critical that the U.S. be able to develop aeronautical products with more efficient, effective capabilities.

“In an ever more competitive world, the course we chart now will affect our ability to maintain both our national security and our economic leadership,” said Muellner. “This bill will permit NASA to continue to support cutting-edge aerospace technology R&D, to meet the schedule of our national Vision for Space Exploration, and to help develop the next generation of aerospace professionals we will need for future technology development and for future mission vision and support.”

Muellner also noted that H.R.6063 would prompt an assessment of the impact of current technology export control policies on the ability of the U.S. aerospace industry to compete in global markets. He said it is important to determine whether export control policies “are actually having the intended result, or if instead their unintended consequences merit changing course.”