Press Release

NASA Simulation Facilities Collaborate to Improve Air Travel

By SpaceRef Editor
August 12, 2004
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How do you test new air traffic control technologies
without shutting down some of the nation’s busiest airports?
You do it “virtually.”

NASA’s Ames Research Center, in California’s Silicon Valley,
recently completed an initial series of simulations for its
new Virtual Airspace Simulation Technology Real-Time (VAST-
RT) capabilities. This was the first of many verification and
validation simulations planned to significantly extend the
scope and applicability of NASA’s simulation facilities, to
evaluate the complex constraints of the National Airspace
System. The simulation technology is being developed to help
meet NASA’s Airspace Systems Program and aeronautics mission

“With air travel expected to at least double in the next 20
years, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are
developing new concepts and technologies that will enable
this expansion without a significant increase in delays or
hassles for the traveler,” said Harry Swenson, manager of
NASA’s Virtual Airspace Modeling and Simulation Project.

“The VAST-RT simulation capability represents a significant
increase in the state of the art for airspace simulations. It
allows the coupling of multiple aircraft, airspace and air
traffic control simulators to research the system-wide effect
of these new concepts and technologies. This will provide a
thorough understanding of the benefits and the ability to
explore potential limitations of these conceptual and
technological solutions in a safe, realistic and efficient
environment,” Swenson explained.

The two-day simulation used operations at both Dallas/Fort
Worth and Chicago’s O’Hare international airports —
including the airspace between them — to test the new VAST-
RT technology. Future simulations will extend the capability
well beyond this scenario to evaluate system-wide effects
that can ripple from the operations at these major airports.

During the tests, researchers were able to verify the
connectivity of four simulation facilities at Ames using a
technology originally developed by the military and
customized for air traffic control simulations. The tests
included the use of an advanced flight simulator, an airport
control tower simulator, a laboratory that simulates air
traffic control functions outside an airport, and other
capabilities to represent all parts of airspace operations.

“This new real-time capability is critical to the assessment
of advanced automation concepts and procedures being
considered for the next-generation air traffic management
system,” said Debbi Ballinger, VAST-RT project manager.
“VAST-RT simulation technology is an important tool in NASA’s
mission to improve the efficiency of the National Airspace

At Ames, pilots and controllers conducted simulated flight
operations to and from O’Hare and Dallas/Fort Worth airports,
including overflights that intersected this airspace en route
to other destinations. Tower, terminal radar approach
control, sector and center air traffic control operations
were simulated.

“The VAST-RT technology gives us the realism required to
conduct human factors assessments in an operationally
relevant environment,” said Sandy Lozito, a NASA researcher
who specializes in air traffic management. “The technology
provides an opportunity to address research questions
pertaining to the changing roles of the human operators when
considering new tools and procedures,” she ventured.

“Human-in-the-loop simulation will be required before new
concepts and technologies can be deployed in the field, and
the VAST-RT technology will provide a cost-effective and safe
way to perform these studies on large segments of the air
traffic control system,” said Ballinger.

NASA is working with the FAA to revolutionize air traffic
management for the National Airspace System.

For more information about VAST-RT on the Internet, visit:

For more information about NASA research in aeronautics,

SpaceRef staff editor.