New Study Tweaks NASA Research Plans


Stating the U.S. industry is “under attack from a variety of directions, both internal and external,” a lengthy study on aerospace research released earlier this month highlights what its authors think the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) should be doing in basic aviation research. The $5 million study — dubbed Responding to the Call: Aviation Plan for American Leadership and conducted by the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), along with the Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee — is the result of a 2003 mandate from Congress to develop an “integrated approach to regain world leadership in the aviation industry.” According to the NIA, the study’s authors focused on six key national needs: U.S. economic competitiveness, freedom of air travel, flight safety, securing and defending the nation, protecting the environment, and educating the future workforce. The full 1000-plus page report provides detailed investment plans, budgets and needs assessments for seven aeronautics-industry sectors, including airspace systems, aviation safety and security, subsonic aircraft, supersonic aircraft, hypersonic technologies, rotorcraft, and workforce and education. The study’s release comes as NASA’s fiscal year 2006 budget for aeronautics research is undergoing congressional scrutiny — and many on Capitol Hill do not like what they are finding. “We’re going to take the ‘A’ out of it and it’s just going to be the National Space Administration,” U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said of the budget two months ago, according to The Associated Press. But that’s really nothing new, since the portion of NASA’s budget devoted to aviation and aircraft — instead of space — has dwindled for several years. The current budget proposal continues that trend, increasing the agency’s total spending plan by some 2.5 percent — to more than $16 billion in 2006 — while reducing aeronautics research. The IA study is, perhaps, the opening salvo in an uphill battle to reverse that trend, one that has resulted in numerous advancements in aircraft operational safety and efficiency, including synthetic vision, highway-in-the-sky and ways to apply many of the technologies being incorporated into the forthcoming flock of very light jets. As the study noted, the non-commercial aviation sector “must have affordable access to the equipment required for operating in the aviation system of the future. … Creating affordable avionics and other aircraft systems is key to this transformation.”