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NASA's Aeronautics Enterprise is in the research and technology business. The very nature of that business -- one where the benefits of today's "products" and efforts may not be realized for several years, or even decades -- places a premium on being able to take a longer-term view. Working with suppliers, customers, and stakeholders, the Enterprise has developed a vision of aeronautics in the year 2020 -- national capabilities that will be required for the United States to maintain its leadership in aeronautics and air transportation. This vision helps guide the development and execution of our aeronautics research and technology program.

National Transportation Vision

To begin, we recognize that aviation is but one facet of a highly-interactive national passenger and cargo transportation system. In order to make the best possible investment decisions on behalf of our ultimate stakeholder and customer -- the American citizen -- it is critical that we understand the relative importance and benefits of various transportation investments.

Toward that end, the Enterprise has worked closely with the National Science and Technology Council's Interagency Coordinating Committee on Transportation Research and Development (CTRD). In their recent report on transportation research and development priorities, the Committee defined the following vision for a national transportation system:

The Committee's vision is of a sustainable and seamless intermodal transportation system that effectively ties America together and links it to the world. This system will help citizens and businesses satisfy their needs by providing efficient, safe, secure, and environmentally-friendly transportation of people and goods. It will result from a strengthened partnership between government and the private sector focused on effective management and renewal of existing infrastructure, strategic deployment of new technologies and infrastructure, and on R&D which supports each of these.

The Aeronautics Enterprise's vision of the future -- and its programmatic activities -- are grounded in that total transportation systems context.

Aviation in 2020

In today's dynamic environment, making predictions about 25 years into the future carries with it some risk. However, the aviation world of 2020 is likely to be characterized by:

- Increased Numbers of Both Old and New Types of Aircraft. Large commercial airline inventories will increase by over 50 percent, and the regional/commuter fleet will more than double from today's levels. In addition, the fleet will include new types of aircraft, potentially including:

- Superjumbo subsonic commercial transports, capable of carrying greater than 600 passengers or equivalent cargo loads.

- Second-generation high-speed (i.e., supersonic) transport aircraft, perhaps capable of quiet, supersonic over-land flight;

- A mix of sophisticated fanjet, propjet, and turboprop commuter and general aviation aircraft;

- Advanced helicopters and new tiltrotor/tiltwing aircraft ferrying passengers from city center to city center;

- Hypersonic research vehicles, leading to hydrocarbon-fueled, atmospheric cruise vehicles for military and/or commercial cargo applications; hydrogen-fueled Mach 10 waverider vehicles for military reconnaissance and/or deep strike operations; and remotely-piloted, over-water Mach 5-6 hypersonic vehicles used for overnight package delivery services; and

- Highly-stealthy, highly-maneuverable military aircraft with enhanced survivability characteristics.

- Increased Applications of Advanced Aircraft Technologies. These new aircraft will employ a variety of new technologies to meet customer requirements for reduced acquisition costs, lower operating costs, increased safety and environmental compatibility, and improved maintainability. For example:

- Technologies to reduce the environmental impacts of noise and engine combustion products. Commercial airliners in 2020 will be "quiet" aircraft, operating near ambient (i.e., background) noise levels, and will emit 50 percent fewer combustion by-products;

- Highly-blended wing-body configurations, such as the "all flying wing," to meet performance and low observability requirements.

- Technologies for "smart structures" and "smart surfaces." Health-monitoring systems in power plants and structures will enable the prediction of pending failures. Other systems will enable the real-time identification and characterization of problems with control systems and other flight parameters, as well as real-time system reconfiguration to enable continued operability; and

- Technologies for "all-electric" aircraft (i.e., replacing electrical and mechanical cables and hydraulics with fiber optics) and "all-plastic" aircraft (actually polymer matrix composite materials).

- More Flexible Design and Manufacturing. Advances in agile aircraft design, development, and manufacturing processes and technologies will be key to future affordability and product flexibility. For example, the next twenty-five years should see a 50 percent reduction in the time required to design and deliver a new commercial transport aircraft. A portion of these productivity gains will result from the increased use of sophisticated supercomputing and networking technologies that will enable "virtual aircraft design," the ability to simulate an entire aircraft via computational capabilities.

- Increased Applications of Information Science Technologies. New capabilities in information management -- the acquisition, integration, display, and utilization of data from the aircraft and the surrounding environment -- will change the way in which aircraft are operated. For example:

- Advanced sensors will provide data on wing-ice build-up, terrain and traffic proximity, adverse weather conditions, and other factors. Information from these sensors will be integrated into expert flight management systems that provide real-time data and options to pilots.

- Advances in display technology will also enable the more efficient use of such information. Cockpit systems will provide head-up displays, complete with 3-D visual and aural cues and featuring voice activation, to enable effective human - machine interaction and responses.

The next 25 years should also see the initial applications of exotic sensor technologies, for example the use of nanotechnologies as sensors to detect and adjust to increases in turbulent airflow. Information and sensor technologies will also play a role in ground-based operations. Virtual reality and synthetic vision technologies will be used in simulators for pilot training, as well as for simulating and designing manufacturing processes and maintenance routines.

- An Advanced Air Traffic Management System. Finally, significant advances in global air transportation systems will be required to both enable and accommodate the diverse, and highly capable, aircraft of the future. Many of these improvements will be integrally linked with advances in information technology. For example, the combination of satellite-based guidance and navigation systems and sensor/information technologies will enable the debut of "highways" in the sky. Essentially, these skyways would appear in the cockpit display of an aircraft as actual paths in the sky, and individual aircraft pilots would be able to choose their own flight paths within the boundaries of these paths, much as does today's automobile driver on the highway. Such a capability could be a major factor i revitalizing the general aviation aircraft market, approximating a personal transportation" concept for low-cost flight.

Other advances will include all-weather flight capabilities, a seamless country - to - country global air traffic management system, and the capability to operate autonomously in regions of the globe with undeveloped or underdeveloped air traffic systems -- again enabled by satellite-based guidance and navigation capabilities.

It is against the background of these and other potential advances in aeronautical science and technology, and associated infrastructure, that the Aeronautics Enterprise program is defined and planned. U.S. manufacturers and airline operators must be able to compete in these new, and technologically advanced markets, and the Aeronautics Enterprise will play a major role in ensuring that these and other advanced technologies and capabilities are developed.

Aeronautics Enterprise Mission Statement

To be the world leader in pioneering high-payoff, critical technologies with effective transfer of research and technology products to industry, the Department of Defense, and the Federal Aviation Administration for application to safe, superior, and environmentally-friendly U.S. civil and military aircraft, and for a safe and efficient National Aviation System.

We will aggressively pursue the identification, development, verification, transfer, application, and commercialization of aeronautics technologies to stimulate economic growth and to enhance U.S. competitiveness and world leadership in both aerospace and non-aerospace industries. In addition, we will ensure the continuing excellence of U.S. aeronautics for future generations by fostering and supporting multi-disciplinary education in elementary, secondary, and higher institutions of learning.

NASA carries out its aeronautics mission in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Defense, industry, and academia. Our primary role lies in basic and applied research and technology development. In addition, through the operation of national aeronautical facilities, NASA is involved -- in close cooperation with industry, DOD, and FAA -- throughout the development process.