use by the early 1950s. However, many other technological advances had to occur during this period to enable the transformation to the jet age, such as stability augmentation systems and the adoption of swept-wing designs. The shift in U.S. population westward spurred demand for faster transcontinental airline service, making private investment in more expensive jet airliners feasible. Likewise, the revolution in airline operations that followed industry deregulation in the 1980s coincided with a revolution in computing and information technologies, allowing the development of equipment management, scheduling, and computer reservations systems that made the operation of complex hub-and-spoke networks much more practical and efficient.

The technological advances and innovations in air transportation, and aviation in general, have emerged from a mix of military, industrial, university, and other public and private sources. NASA and its predecessor organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, have made many significant contributions to aviation’s advancement, from more efficient wing and airframe designs obtained from years of aerodynamics and structures research to occupant protection improvements obtained from crash studies.1 NASA analytical tools and test facilities, such as wind tunnels, simulators, and acoustic laboratories, have provided valuable data for designing safe, efficient, and environmentally acceptable aviation systems.

NASA continues to have a prominent role in the advancement of aeronautics research and technology. Much of its research is aimed at developing capabilities that can be applied to many different classes and configurations of aircraft. For example, NASA researchers are working on ways to improve icing detection and mitigation, engine and airframe material durability, and the fuel efficiency of wing designs. Through its aviation safety and weather information programs, NASA is seeking to develop more effective pilot training procedures and aids, improved tools for turbulence forecasting, and materials and technologies that reduce the incidence and severity of postcrash fires.

In recent years, NASA has identified several goals to help guide and inspire its aeronautics research programs:2

  • Reduce the aircraft accident rate by a factor of 5 within 10 years and by a factor of 10 within 25 years.

  • Reduce oxides of nitrogen emissions of future aircraft by 70 percent within 10 years and by 80 percent within 25 years, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions of future aircraft by 25 percent and by 50 percent in the same time frames.

  • Reduce the perceived noise levels of future aircraft by a factor of 2 (10 decibels) within 10 years and by a factor of 4 (20 decibels) within 25 years.

  • Reduce the cost of air travel by 25 percent within 10 years and by 50 percent within 25 years.

  • Double the capacity of the aviation system within 10 years and triple its capacity within 25 years.


For examples of NASA research and technologies used in at least one aviation sector, GA, see Appendix C, General Aviation Task Force Report, prepared for NASA, September 1993.



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