National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Glenn, FAA Conduct Tests to Advance Secured Wireless Data Communications


Under a fully reimbursable Space Act Agreement, NASA Glenn and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently completed aircraft-based testing of a new class of broadband secure wireless mobile data communications established for reliable high-data-rate networking for air traffic controllers, pilots, airlines and airport operators on the airport surface.

This milestone accomplishment is the result of nearly 10 years of joint Aeronautical Mobile Airport Communications System (AeroMACS) development led by NASA Glenn. The technology could lead to reductions in air travel delays; increased security; improved safety and fuel efficiency; and more efficient airport traffic management and operations, especially at high-density airports.

AeroMACS is the first of three elements of a proposed communications infrastructure for future aeronautical air-ground data communications capabilities. The infrastructure will support the FAA’s Next Generation (NextGen) Air Transportation System in the United States and Europe’s Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) program shared visions of global harmonization and interoperability.

The testing included graphical aviation weather information transmitted from NASA’s communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS) technologies testbed at Cleveland (CLE) Hopkins International Airport to an electronic flight bag on the aircraft as it taxied at various speeds on the runway and on operational areas. This enabled AeroMACS testing at high speeds and realistic aircraft installations. United Airlines, Boeing Corporation and ITT Exelis supported the testing activities that involved a Boeing 737 aircraft equipped with AeroMACS receiving equipment, including an antenna designed to operate in the 5091–5150 MHz protected aeronautical spectrum band.

“We are excited about being able to conduct these tests right in our backyard,” said Denise Ponchak, lead of the project and chief of Glenn’s Networks & Architectures Branch. “Working with Cleveland Hopkins, the various airlines and other participants to test AeroMACS will help validate the system’s performance to meet operating standards and recommended practices.”

Ponchak said the results of these tests will also help establish a standard for properly equipped aircraft to receive compatible AeroMACS services at airports in the United States and abroad. NASA Glenn will continue research and development on a wide variety of mobile and fixed applications for the AeroMACS, which can also benefit future lunar surface communications.

—By S. Jenise Veris

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of AeroSpace Frontiers.