The New Aviation Revolution
Even though technology has advanced fantastically in the last 60 years, most aviation systems, procedures and equipment have changed little. Pilots must still learn to operate antiquated navigation equipment and be familiar with outdated procedures in order to get their license. Air traffic control is still reliant on ground centers using radar and voice communication. Even a short flight may require communication with multiple controllers, changing and re-changing frequencies and constantly paying attention in case a controller calls your number. Pilots must be constantly aware of what class of airspace they are in and going towards. They must also find and analyze weather data (usually in arcane code) from numerous sources and make appropriate decisions – all the time.
In fact the complexity of flying an airplane (compared to driving a car) and the difficulty in gaining a pilots license, create a barrier that is insurmountable to most people.
Fortunately, some very forward thinking people at NASA have different ideas. Two NASA initiatives – the Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) and Advanced General Aviation Experiments (AGATE) seek to revolutionize general aviation. SATS and AGATE technologies will provide private airplanes with hitherto unimaginable safety and utility. On-board computing integrated with GPS navigation, advanced flight controls and ‘highway in the sky’ displays will allow equipped aircraft to have near ‘all weather’ capability at smaller airfields with sequencing and separation of traffic being carried out automatically. The goal of SATS and AGATE technologies is to make it possible for someone to safely operate an aircraft with much less training and with much greater ease – to make flying the ‘highway in the sky’ about as technically challenging as driving on the freeway in your car.