The U.S. can avoid a
crisis in civil and military aviation if Congress and the Bush
Administration increase the nation’s commitment to long-term
aeronautics research, according to testimony today by the NASA
Aeronautics Support Team (NAST) before a Senate subcommittee.

The NASA Aeronautics Support Team (NAST), a nonprofit coalition
advocating increased funding for long-term aeronautics R&D, told the
Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space that America’s
historic leadership role in aviation is at risk from continued budget
cuts to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and
intensified foreign competition.

But a NAST spokesman told Subcommittee Chairman George Allen
(R-VA) that “NASA has the capability to solve most of the nation’s
aeronautics challenges” if properly funded.

“Aeronautics is not yet a mature science and many new concepts are
emerging from NASA research that could revolutionize aviation,” said
NAST Chief Technical Advisor Roy V. Harris, Jr., a retired aeronautics
director at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

As examples, he mentioned the potential of large blended-wing/body
aircraft, an economically viable and environmentally friendly
supersonic airliner for transpacific flights, and advanced flight
cockpits with “synthetic vision” enabling pilots to maneuver safely in
darkness and fog. But before any meaningful advances can be realized,
Harris said, NASA funding must be “restored and revitalized.”

While NASA’s budget is essentially the same as in 1993, the
nation’s aviation woes have increased dramatically over the years.
“The problems Americans face with delayed flights and near misses
today are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said, noting that U.S. air
traffic is expected to triple over the next twenty years. “It is not
remotely unreasonable to predict that the system could choke in just a
few more years if solutions are not found.”

U.S. aviation also faces a challenge from abroad. As Harris noted,
the European Commission has adopted a program of intensive, long-term
aeronautics research with the ultimate goal of seizing global
leadership in the aviation marketplace.

“Twenty-five years ago the U.S. owned over 90% of the world market
for commercial aircraft sales,” Harris said. “Ten years ago it was
70%; today it is 50% and some experts predict it could drop to 30%.”
This is important to the U.S. economy beyond the statistics, Harris
asserted, because aircraft sales remain “a large positive contributor
to the U.S. trade balance.”

NASA’s history – and that of its predecessor agency – began with
research into military applications of aviation-related research.

Harris told the Subcommittee that “over the years, a partnership
evolved in which NASA conducted basic research and the Department of
Defense would focus on product and systems development and near-term
applications. ”This very cost-effective partnership of 86 years has
produced military aircraft that are second-to-none,“ he continued,
expressing the NAST coalition’s concern about a recent NASA
administrative decision that could end the collaboration.

Harris concluded by suggesting that continuing budget pressures on
NASA may have created a perceived need to de-emphasize aeronautics
research in order to maintain the nation’s space initiatives. “This is
a false choice,” Harris asserted. “We must develop new technologies
for more efficient space launch and flight. But because so much of
basic aeronautics research can lend itself to space-related
applications, the question of funding is not and should not be an
`either/or’ proposition.”

“The agency’s overall budget must be increased to ensure a future
for U.S. aviation that is economically competitive, militarily strong,
technologically advanced, safe, and environmentally friendly,” Harris

The NASA Aeronautics Support Team (NAST) is a not-for-profit
coalition of citizens and aeronautics researchers dedicated to the
advancement of aeronautics research at the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA) and other agencies. NAST is not affiliated
with NASA. The NAST coalition is funded by public and private

Contact: NASA Aeronautics Support Team

Roy V. Harris, Jr., 757/229-7497


Anna McNider, 757/723-7677