Photos: NASA's FutureFlight Central

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 .

Stefanie Olsen/CNET

By Bill Detwiler

Bill Detwiler is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the ...