NASA Is With You When You Fly

With the holidays fast approaching, our nation’s airlines and air traffic control system are gearing up for the busiest time of the year for air travel. The industry association, Airlines for America, predicts 24.6 million passengers will take off to visit friends and family during the upcoming Thanksgiving Day weekend, up 1.5 percent from 2013. Sunday, Nov. 30, will be the busiest day of the year at U.S. airports.

Thanks to advancements in aeronautics developed by NASA, today’s aviation industry is better equipped than ever to safely and efficiently transport all those passengers to their destinations. In fact, every U.S. aircraft flying today has NASA-developed technology incorporated into it in one way or another.

Streamlined aircraft bodies, quieter jet engines, techniques for preventing icing, drag-reducing winglets, lightweight composite structures, and so much more are an everyday part of flying thanks to NASA research that traces its origins back to the earliest days of aviation.

The same is true at Federal Aviation Administration facilities where movement of passengers and cargo through the National Airspace System is closely monitored and managed. Today’s air traffic controllers rely on NASA-developed procedures and computer software tools designed to reduce congestion and increase efficiency on the ground and in the sky.

A great example of that is something we’re working on right now with American Airlines and the FAA called Dynamic Weather Routes, or DWR. It’s a computer software tool that helps airlines find better routes to fly around bad weather while their airplane is already in the sky and on its way. Tests so far already show promise the tool can help save money in fuel costs and reduce delays for passengers.

All of us at NASA can be proud of our ongoing role in enabling aeronautical innovation and ingenuity, a research heritage that goes back 100 years to the formation in 1915 of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). March 3, 2015, marks the centenary of this occasion.

The NACA was created by Congress over concerns the U.S. was losing its edge in aviation technology to Europe, where World War I was raging. NACA’s mission, in part, was to “supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution.”

Subsequent research by the NACA’s engineers at its world-class laboratories and wind tunnels in Virginia, California and Ohio led to fundamental advances in aeronautics that enabled victory in World War II, propelled supersonic flight, supported national security during the Cold War, and laid the foundation for the space age with NASA’s creation in 1958.

During the next year – as we celebrate the NACA centennial and our heritage of excellence in aviation research, our aeronautical innovators are continuing to identify ever more complex problems in aviation, while also designing and testing practical solutions using ever more sophisticated tools.

Our focus continues to be designing new aircraft and engines that burn less fuel, operate more quietly and generate fewer emissions. At the same time, working with our industry and government partners, NASA will also continue to improve and modernize the nation’s air traffic control system so it can safely handle the colossal influx of additional air traffic expected in the future.

We know how important aviation is to all of us. Our economy depends on it. Passenger travel and cargo shipments generate more than $1.5 trillion in activity while supporting more than 11.5 million jobs. And it’s true that aviation touches all of us every day, whether flying to an important business meeting, visiting loved ones, or even taking overnight delivery of a brand new smart phone.

It is important to remember: at every step along the way; inside cockpits, cabins and jet engines; atop traffic control towers; and from departure gate to arrival terminal at airports everywhere, the DNA of the entire aviation industry is infused with technology that has its roots in NASA research.

NASA is with you when you fly.