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1 Top-Leve' Assessment , . . . . i\ .~ The committee developed 12 recommendations that pertain to all three Aeronautics Technology Pro- grams. These recommendations are presented in this chapter as the top-level assessment. Specific findings that led to these recommendations are presented as part of the detailed descriptions of the three programs in Chapters 2, 3, and 4 of this report. Top-Level Recommendation 1. The government should continue to support air transportation, which is vital to the U.S. economy and the well-be- · ~ ~ ~ ~ sing of its citizens. A strong national program of aeronautics research and technology directly contributes to the vitality of the U.S. aeronautics industry, the efficiency of the U.S. air transportation system, and the economic well- being and quality of life of people in the United States. The government has an important role in assuring the best possible air transportation system and the devel- opment of related technologies that enable products and services to compete effectively in the global mar- ketplace. This is consistent with the legislative char- ter for NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, as amended. The Act specifies that NASA's aeronautics research and technology devel- opment should "contribute to a national technology base that will enhance United States preeminence in s civil and aeronautical aviation and improve the safety and efficiency of the United States air transportation system." Top-Level Recommendation 2. NASA should pro- vide world leadership in aeronautics research and development. To provide leadership, NASA should develop con- sistent strategic and long-range plans that focus the aeronautics program in areas of national importance. NASA should have well-formulated, measurable, at- tainable goals at all program levels. To be meaningful, the goals should be based on a sound evaluation of fu- ture needs, of technological feasibility, and of relevant economic and other nontechnical factors. [Another recent NRC report, Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transportation: A System in Peril, addresses in more detail the need for strong interagency leadership in overcoming future tech- nical and nontechnical challenges to the success of the U.S. air transportation system. That report also identifies specific long-term research needs related to modeling and simulation and the perfor- mance of aircraft and the air transportation system. (National Re- search Council. 2003. Securing the Future of U.S. Air Transporta- tion: A System in Peril. Washington, D.C.: The National Acad- emies Press. Available online at
6 Top-Level Recommendation 3. NASA has many excellent technical personnel and facilities to achieve its aeronautics technology objectives, but NASA should improve its processes for program management. ~ ..... . ., ;. AN ASSESSMENT OF NASA 'S AERONA UTICS TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS Many NASA facilities are world-class national as- sets. In addition, the committee was impressed with the technical expertise of many program personnel. To maximize these assets, NASA needs to improve its pro- gram management and systems integration processes, including integration across programs. NASA should also assure clear lines of responsibility and account- ability. The use of matrix and line management report- ing structures sometimes obscures lines of accountabil- ity, and subproject and task-level plans, funding, goals, metrics, staffing, and responsibility are often difficult to define or cannot be clearly traced back to a plan or vision for the program as a whole. Further, NASA should use independent quality assurance processes for program evaluation, and all projects should be evalu- ated regularly to determine whether continued invest- ment is warranted. Top-Level Recommendation 4. NASA should elimi- nate arbitrary time constraints on program comple- tion and schedule key milestones based on task com- plexity and technology maturity. Research priorities, funding, and organizational structure change during the course of any research and development effort. However, NASA should resist con- stant changes and realignments designed to meet artifi- cial 5-year sunset requirements. Several long-term re- search efforts have been disguised as a series of 5-year projects with different names so that it is not easy to trace the real progress of the research. In addition, the continuous reorganization and restructuring that occur in response to the 5-year sunset rule create an unstable atmosphere that does not permit NASA researchers to pursue the best path to technology maturation. NASA programs need clear exit criteria at the task level that specify when research is complete or ready for transi- tion to industry or other agencies. Top-Level Recommendation 5. NASA should re- duce the number of tasks in its aeronautics technol- ogy portfolio. NASA is trying to do too much within the avail- able budget and resists eliminating programs in the face of budget reductions. Often there are too many tasks to achieve research objectives in key areas. This overload may be partly the result of including various basic re- search tasks within more focused efforts. The commit- tee is concerned that breadth of activities is coming at the expense of depth. Top-Level Recommendation 6. NASA should pur- sue more high-risk, high-payoff technologies. Many innovative concepts that are critical to meet- ing aviation needs in the next decades will not be pur- sued by industry or the Federal Aviation Administra- tion (FAA). NASA should fill this void. The committee applauds the inclusion of high-risk, revolutionary sub- projects in many areas and believes the program port- folio could benefit from additional far-reaching efforts with the potential for high payoff. This type of research is critical to investigating the feasibility of innovative concepts and reducing risk to the point where the con- cepts are suitable for advanced development and trans- fer to industry or the FAA. Top-Level Recommendation 7. NASA should re- constitute a long-term base research program sepa- rate from the other aeronautics technology pro- grams and projects. The current research is mostly product-driven, with not enough fundamental work. Fundamental research is crucial for the development of future products. NASA needs to provide researchers the opportunity to conduct forward-Iooking, basic research that is unen- cumbered by short-term, highly specified goals and milestones. Historically, NASA has been a world leader in its core research areas; however, that base has eroded in recent years as the amount of in-house basic research diminishes. NASA needs to reassess its core competencies and assure their support through a base research program. Top-Level Recommendation X. NASA's aeronau- tics technology infrastructure exceeds its current needs, and the agency should continue to dispose of underutilized assets and facilities. NASA test facilities incur large fixed costs. Some of these facilities are not unique, and long-term fixed costs could be reduced through consolidation and de-
TOP-LEVEL ASSESSMENT 1 activation. This should be an ongoing effort as the needs of the industry change and as validated computa- tional tools reduce or eliminate the need for some ex- . . . . per~mental facilities. Top-Level Recommendation 9. NASA should implement full-cost accounting in a way that avoids unintended consequences harmful to the long-term health of the aeronautics program. NASA is in the process of transitioning from a net accounting system to a system that uses- full-cost ac- counting. Under the former scheme, researchers man- aged only costs directly related to research and devel- opment. In full-cost accounting, all project costs are included in the project budget, including institutional infrastructure costs such as research operations support; direct procurement; direct civil service workforce, ben- efits, and travel; service pools; center general and ad- ministrative; and corporate general and administrative. The committee is concerned that, if not carefully man- aged, fulI-cost accounting could result in (1) the clo- sure of critical infrastructure and special-purpose fa- cilities that will be needed for future program execution and (2) a disincentive to use large-scale facilities and flight tests to fully demonstrate technology readiness. This can easily occur if the responsibility for preserving institutional capabilities is delegated to lower level project managers. These project managers will also tend to avoid full-scale flight tests or wind tunnel tests in order to conserve their project budgets, since under full-cost accounting much of the cost of the testing in- frastructure will be billed directly to their projects if they perform such tests. The testing infrastructure will be underutilized and will not generate the resources needecl to sustain it. The committee recommends that basic research costs should be carried as a line item and not hidden in larger projects and that large infrastruc- ture costs, such as wind tunnels and full-scale flight testing, should be attributed to the total program and accounted for accordingly. Top-Level Recommendation 10. NASA should de- velop a common understanding with the FAA of their respective roles and relationship. NASA's airspace research ultimately benefits many government, industry, and private organizations with an interest in aviation, including the Department of Defense (DoD), airlines, manufacturers, system op- erators (air traffic controllers, managers, flight dis- patchers, and pilots), and the flying public. Practically speaking, however, the most important customers are the senior managers at the FAA who decide whether they will take applied research products from NASA and continue their development to the point of incorpo- rating them in operational systems. Although much of NASA's airspace research is applicable to systems ac- quired and operated by DoD, other government agen- cies, and industry, most of it is intended for application to civil aviation systems acquired, operated, andlor cer- tified by the FAA. In this sense, customers also include the many other organizations and officials who influ- ence decisions by the government and industry regard- ing the advanced development of new systems for civil . . app Location. NASA and the FAA often collaborate at the tech- nical level, but there is a real need for more effective management coordination. The need for continued im- provement in NASA's interactions with its customers is indicated, in part, by the committee's observation that NASA managers seem to perceive interactions with the FAA as more effective than do FAA manag- ers. NASA officials need to recognize that implemen- tation decisions rest with FAA management (for sys- tems to be implemented by the FAA), and advocacy by NASA, when it runs counter to FAA implementation plans, is not helpful. Problems in this area are exacer- bated by (1) the view of many at NASA that the suc- cess of applied research is measured only in terms of the extent to which customers incorporate NASA tech- nology in their operational systems and (2) competi- tion that may arise between NASA and other organiza- tions that conduct research on behalf of the FAA or other key customers. As a particular NASA research effort approaches the point where the value of contin- ued development is contingent on operational imple- mentation, the prospective user may decide that imple- mentation is not feasible. NASA should then be willing to close out the project that has no future and use the resources to support other research. Top-Level Recommendation 11. NASA should seek better feedback from senior management in indus- try and other government organizations. NASA's customers include aircraft manufacturers, operators, airlines, and the FAA. NASA already in- volves customers in almost all of its research for ex- ample, in the form of joint efforts with the FAA to take
8 aN ASSESSMENT OF NASA 'S AERONAUTICS TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS research products into the field for testing. Some projects, such as Small Aircraft Transportation Systems (SATS), also sponsor wide-ranging outreach efforts. Usually, however, customer involvement earlier in the process would be beneficial. Early involvement would (1) ensure that researchers understand and are able to respond to user requirements and concerns as early as possible and (23 probably increase customer buy-in. Customers need not and should not be given veto au- thority over NASA research, but researchers should be aware of—and research plans should account for ob- jections or concerns that customers raise. This is espe- cially important for research intended to provide op- erationally useful products capable of meeting specific functional requirements, but early consultations with users would also be beneficial in a base research pro- gram. NASA should improve its relationships with the FAA and other customers by involving them from the early stages of the research and development process through field implementation. One method for improv- ing interaction would be for NASA to convene a yearly meeting, co-chaired by the FAA and NASA Adminis- trators, with participation by industry executives at the chief operating officer level and senior managers from other federal agencies (e.g., Department of Transporta- tion, Department of Homeland Security, and DoD). Topics should be limited to near-term issues and imple- mentation plans, and such a meeting should not be held unless the NASA and FAA Administrators and indus- try chief operating officers will commit to personally attending the meeting. Top-Level Recommendation 12. NASA should con- duct research in selective areas relevant to rotorcraft. Rotorcraft are an important constituency of air transportation. Many of the research projects currently under way in the Aeronautics Technology Programs, such as synthetic vision and human factors, would be directly relevant to rotorcraft with only minimal addi- tional investment. NASA could make a significant im- pact in underresearched areas of rotorcraft such as de- cision aids, synthetic vision, pilot workload, and situational awareness. Further, the existing U.S. Army programs in rotorcraft technologies and industry re- search and development in rotorcraft could be lever- aged by NASA to meet civilian needs in this area. The committee believes that research in civil applications of rotorcraft will not be conducted elsewhere in gov- ernment or industry and that NASA's decision to dis- continue rotorcraft research has left critical civilian needs unaddressed. Therefore, NASA should consider potential applications to rotorcraft in its research pro- grams in general aviation and transport aircraft. · . The first two top-level recommendations reiterate the importance of air transportation and of NASA's role in the research and development process. Top-Level Recommendations 3-7 suggest ways the content and/or structure of the programs could be improved. Top- Level Recommendations 8 and 9 identify near-term, important concerns. The final three top-level recom- mendations address the relationships between NASA and its customers. The committee believes that NASA can improve and strengthen its Aeronautics Technol- ogy Programs by following this advice.
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