In the not-too-distant future, there may be a virtual "highway in the sky," as the average person could take to the sky in small, safe and affordable, easy-to-fly personal aircraft, traveling four times the speed of today's cars.
NASA has selected a team of industry partners to help develop the highway in the sky system, a key element of the government-industry effort to revitalize general aviation in the United States.
Development costs will be shared equally between NASA and the seven-member industry team, with both contributing approximately $3 million. Team members are Avidyne Corp., Lexington, MA; AvroTec Inc., Portland, OR; Lancair, Redmond, OR; Raytheon Aircraft, Wichita, KS; Rockwell Collins, Cedar Rapids, IA; Seagull Technologies, Los Gatos, CA; and AlliedSignal, Olathe, KS.
The team, with AvroTec as team lead and Avidyne as technical project manager, has 2 1/2 years to complete hardware and software development of a totally new concept for presenting critical, flight-path guidance information to the pilot.
Dubbed "highway in the sky," the cockpit display system includes a computer-drawn highway that the pilot follows to a preprogrammed destination. The highway is drawn on a highly intuitive, low-cost flat panel display -- the primary flight display of the future -- that will displace decades-old "steam gauge" instrumentation.
The system also includes a multi-function display of position navigation, terrain map, weather and air traffic information. In addition, digital (datalink) radios will send and receive flight data, and a solid-state attitude and heading reference system will replace gyroscopes.
Together, the displays and other equipment will provide intuitive situational awareness and enough information for a pilot to perform safely, with reduced workload, in nearly all weather conditions.
In addition to transforming cockpits, the technology developed by the team will redefine the relationship between pilots and air traffic control and fundamentally change the way future general aviation pilots fly. This technology is expected to significantly increase freedom, safety and ease-of-flying by providing pilots with affordable, direct access to information needed for future "free-flight" air traffic control systems. Pilots will have the ability to safely determine their routes, speeds and proximity to dangerous weather, terrain and other airplanes.
The team will work toward flight certification of the highway in the sky system around the year 2001. This will be the first attempt to certify such a system using affordable commercial "off-the-shelf" computer technology in aircraft.
Development of the highway in the sky system has been fostered by the Advanced General Aviation Transports Experiment (AGATE) -- a consortium of more than 70 members from industry, universities, the Federal Aviation Administration and other government agencies. All seven highway in the sky team members are AGATE members.
AGATE was created by NASA in 1994 to develop affordable new technology -- as well as industry standards and certification methods -- for airframe, cockpit, flight training systems and airspace infrastructure for next-generation single pilot, four-to-six seat, near all-weather light airplanes.
Along with a parallel program -- the General Aviation Propulsion program for development of revolutionary engines -- AGATE is providing industry partners with technologies leading to a small aircraft transportation system in the early 21st century. These investments support the national general aviation "roadmap" goal to "enable doorstep-to-destination travel at four times highway speeds to virtually all of the nation's suburban, rural and remote communities."
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