Future-Tech, SATS Test This Summer

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The first on-ramp to the Highway In The Sky opens June 5. That's when NASA's Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) undergoes its first demonstration at Danville Airport in Virginia. While Boeing and Airbus work on bigger planes that can fly fatter ... and farther ... SATS is dedicated to creating infrastructure for point-to-point air travel that bypasses major airports and allows convenient and reliable access to thousands of small airports all over the country. SATS manager Jerry Hefner told graduateengineer.com that 93 percent of Americans live within 30 minutes of an underused rural airport (just don't try to find hangar space there). The challenge is to increase the use of these uncontrolled airports without increasing the number of midairs and weather-related crashes. The June demonstration will feature a GPS-based onboard anti-collision system that allows pilots to track nearby traffic. SATS will also use GPS to create predetermined routes from airport to airport (the aforementioned highways) and employ enhanced vision systems to allow pilots to land safely in bad weather. Hefner is a frequent flyer on NASA's fleet of bizjets and knows well the advantages of point-to-point travel over the airline hub-and-spoke system. "You don't have to do that more than once or twice to appreciate the advantages. It reduces the hassle and saves time," he said.