As the United States prepares for air traffic to double over the next 20 years, NASA should be leading the research to develop aircraft that produce lower levels of harmful emissions, noise and energy consumption, a panel told members of Congress May 1.


However, NASA’s 2009 budget request of $446.5 million for aeronautics research is $62.5 million less than Congress appropriated for 2008
and continues a trend that has led to a 24 percent budget reduction over the past decade, according to budget information provided to the House Science and Technology space and aeronautics subcommittee. Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) called the cuts unacceptable.


“NASA has many worthwhile programs under way – activities that deserve our support,” he said during a May 1 subcommittee hearing. “Yet I am hard-pressed to think of any program at NASA, with the possible exception of NASA’s climate research initiatives, that is more relevant to our society’s needs than NASA’s aeronautics program.”

A lack of facilities such as wind tunnels for technology demonstrations, has forced the U.S. aeronautics commercial sector to seek test sites in Europe and to compete for business in markets that enjoy significant government backing, Preston Henne, senior vice president of programs, engineering and tests for Savannah, Ga.-based Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. told the House Science and Technology space and aeronautics subcommittee.

“The U.S. is down to one large civil aircraft manufacturer and no longer even participates in the regional jet market as a manufacturer,” he said. “We now have three strong foreign competitors that are intent on capturing our market. More importantly, they are keen on capturing the engine for jobs and economic growth.”


Henne noted that he had just returned from testing a new aircraft at a wind tunnel facility in Europe but prefers the security of conducting the tests in the United States. “You have to believe that when you walk out of that wind tunnel [in a foreign nation] your data is available to others,” he said.


NASA has been working for two years to improve its aeronautics test program, Jaiwon Shin, newly appointed associate administrator for aeronautics research, told members of Congress. Shin could not say how long it might take to offer a large-scale test sight, but cited recent work with Gulfstream on sonic boom mitigation and creation of a synthetic vision – a virtual reality display for cockpits that helps navigate regardless of the actual weather conditions – as recent successes.


NASA has performed well under a constrained budget, said Ilan Kroo, a hearing panelist and professor in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University in California. The next step is to integrate the work with the commercial users, he said.


“These critical integration and validation projects will require close collaboration with industry, and it is difficult to see how they can be undertaken with NASA’s current level of investment in aeronautics,” Kroo said.

Comments: riannotta@space.com