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NASA Ames Research Center on Wednesday offered a glimpse of its FutureFlight Central, a virtual airport designed to let planners, pilots and controllers from around the country hash out any proposed changes to an airport. With simulating software that can represent any airport in three dimensions, pilots and planners can train and test out new procedures and controls.
FutureFlight Central hosts live-action simulations for tower controllers, pilots and engineers, as well as a video and audio recording studio to evaluate the tests.
Future Flight’s Tower Cab hosts a 360-degree out-of-the-window virtual display of a real-world airport in high-definition video, and rendered on an SGI machine. The 3D images can simulate changes in weather, cloud cover or time of day.
Here is a virtual representation of designs for Chicago’s O’Hare Airport that are set to be finished in 2018–the first phase of a project that has just been started. NASA Ames built the 3D visualization in little more than two months with data from the FAA, still images and aerial photos of the Chicago airport, among other sources. According to a NASA representative, it is one of the largest airport simulations of its kind.
Plans for O’Hare will add two additional runways on both the north and south ends of the airport, bringing the total number of runways to eight, and extend existing runways by a couple thousand feet. Current O’Hare pilots and controllers tested the software at NASA Ames earlier this year, experimenting with east and west traffic flows and the visual instrumentation.
“It took them a while to get used to it because there’s a slew of new taxiways,” a NASA representative said .
NASA Ames’ cockpit flight simulator is one of thousands around the world. NASA built its simulator 14 years ago as a research tool to design a better human interface for pilots. What’s special about NASA Ames’s flight simulator is that it’s one of the few Boeing 747s’ that is fully configurable so that researchers can change the controls and interaction in the cockpit. The simulator is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The simulator has been used to improve traffic collision avoidance systems in U.S. airports and better sequence arrivals of planes in route, according to NASA representatives.
An external view of NASA Ames’ flight simulator, which is an exact replica of a Boeing 747’s cockpit. When it was built 14 years ago by CAE, a Canadian aircraft builder, it was the most modern long hull aircraft on the market. It has all the core specifications, certified by the FAA, but it’s fully configurable. The light switches can be interchanged with landing controls, for example.
Out the window of the flight simulator, test pilots see a 3-D visualization of an airport runway, helping them to practice landings in bad weather, for example.