Don Nolan-Proxmire Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1983


October 17, 1996

Michael Mewhinney Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA (Phone: 415/604-3937) RELEASE: 96-211 NASA TECHNOLOGY TO HELP PILOTS TAXI MORE EFFICIENTLY Faced with a projected 32 percent increase in air traffic in the United States over the next decade, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are developing advanced technologies to increase traffic-handling capacity at existing airports. One of those technologies is called the Taxiway Navigation And Situation Awareness (T-NASA) system that will help pilots taxi safely -- particularly in low visibility weather conditions. The integrated system was developed as part of NASA's $100 million Terminal Area Productivity (TAP) program and is being tested at NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA. "For the pilot, taxiing at an airport today is done in the same basic manner as it was in the 1950's -- receiving a verbal route clearance, and then following the airport signs," said Ames scientist Dr. David Foyle, technical leader of the T-NASA research development team. "Despite the technological boom in avionics, GPS satellite positioning technology and advanced display media, the only cockpit aid currently available to the taxiing pilot is a paper airport layout chart," Foyle said. "T-NASA's goal is to safely get the aircraft from the gate to the runway and from the runway to the gate as rapidly and efficiently as we can," explains Dr. Robert McCann, who along with Foyle, Dr. Anthony Andre, Dr. Durand Begault and Dr. Elizabeth Wenzel, has been developing and testing T-NASA since 1993. T-NASA is a combination of software and navigational devices designed to operate on the aircraft's flight deck. Unlike some of the other air traffic management tools now being tested by NASA and the FAA, T-NASA is not automated, so pilots will continue to manually control taxi maneuvers.

"There are other efforts to improve airport landing efficiency in low-visibility conditions due to bad weather, but without new displays and procedures for taxi, we feel that taxi operations may produce an airport traffic bottleneck," Foyle said. "Airport taxiing is extremely difficult in low-visibility weather conditions at unfamiliar airports, and at large, complex airports." "T-NASA is a cockpit display system with three components," Foyle said. "The cleared taxi route is shown on a glass visor in front of the cockpit windshield, a Heads-Up Display (HUD), in a virtual reality manner. The pilot's aircraft position and that of other aircraft is shown on an electronic moving map of the airport on the instrument panel. Traffic warnings are produced via virtual 3-D audio techniques in which the warning sounds like it emanates from the direction of the traffic," Foyle said. "By using GPS satellite positioning and an airport layout database, T-NASA updates the displays in real time," McCann said. "The HUD depicts the edges of the taxiway with a series of virtual `cones'. In addition, when there's a turn, we have virtual turn signs showing the angle and direction of the turn. As the pilot taxis, these virtual cones and signs move and change as if they were actual objects on the taxiway. The pilot's cleared route ends up looking like a virtual highway on the ground," McCann said. "As the amount of traffic in the air increases, airline schedules become tighter and more intertwined," McCann said. "If there is bad weather at a major airport, there are tremendous disruptions on the schedules as backups occur. If we can increase the efficiency of airline surface operations so that planes are able to get very efficiently from the runway to the gate and from the gate to the runway, then we can impact the airline schedules and reduce delays. I think that's the bottom line for the taxpaying public." Foyle predicted the new technology will lead not only to greater efficiency of operations, but to increased safety as well. "Psychologists have shown that navigating with paper maps is a very difficult and demanding mental task," Foyle noted. "Our technology makes taxiing much easier for the pilot, particular under low visibility conditions. The HUD and the moving map shows the cleared taxi route to the pilot, and decreases the chance that the pilot goes off route and becomes a hazard to other aircraft. The moving map and virtual 3-D audio warnings provide pilots with better knowledge of where other aircraft traffic are on the airport surface,"

he said. "The T-NASA system has strong potential for automobiles as well," McCann said. "For example, if we could adapt a T-NASA system for automobiles, we might be able to prevent accidents involving drivers going off the road during heavy fog, rain or snowstorms." Foyle and McCann will discuss the T-NASA project Oct. 23 during the 1996 World Aviation Congress and Exposition being held Oct. 22-24 at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Los Angeles. Next summer, Ames and NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, are scheduled to conduct a flight demonstration of some of the TAP components, including the T-NASA navigation system, at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport. Ames also plans a full mission simulation of T-NASA next year in its Crew Vehicle Systems Research Facility. -end-