NASA – Leading the Future of Aeronautics

When we think of NASA’s groundbreaking work, most of our brains go straight to accomplishments in space. From revolutionary photos of black holes to dreams of sending people to Mars, these achievements often overshadow the groundbreaking work taking place in the field of NASA’s first “A:”Aeronautics.

Since the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903, aeronautics has always been a pillar of American innovation and international competitiveness. NASA and the agency’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, have pioneered new technologies that helped aviation evolve from a niche form of transport for the wealthy into an affordable form of mass travel with unrivalled safety and efficiency. The image below highlights the extent to which NASA’s scientific breakthroughs have made this evolution possible.

With today’s House Space, Science, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics hearing, NASA’s Aeronautics Mission: Enabling the Transformation Of Aviation, NASA’s work in delivering this transformation will be on full display. Aviation is expected to grow rapidly in the coming decades and aeronautical breakthroughs will be necessary for ensuring we can accommodate new vehicles safely and sustainably into our airspace.

The first X-plane, the X-1 was the first manned aircraft to break the sound barrier. Now more than 60 years later, experimental aircraft like NASA’s all-electric X-57 will help the next generation of aircraft have even better environmental performance than current aircraft – which are 85% more fuel efficient and produce 75% less noise than the first generation of jetliners.

On top of that, the X-59 is driving the reemergence of supersonic flight. The low-boom technology equipped on the aircraft will help reduce the infamous boom associated with the Concorde to a sonic thud 1/1000th of the volume and open the door to a sustainable future for supersonic travel. With continuing support and innovation from industry members, NASA, and government stakeholders, supersonic flight will soon become a reality.

NASA’s aeronautics work is also directly driving innovation that will change aviation as fundamentally as the invention of the jet engine did. One of these innovations include NASA’s work on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Integrating these new aircraft into the sky will require a new form of traffic management for under 400 feet called UAS Traffic Management (UTM). UTM was initiated as a NASA research project and once fully implemented will unlock the true potential of UAS in the National Airspace System and allow for things like package delivery and emergency medical operations to take place at scale. 

In addition, NASA is actively researching how to properly integrate Urban Air Mobility (UAM) into the National Airspace System through their recently announced UAM Grand Challenge. UAM will change the way that people are able to move around cities and connect to rural areas. It will also help improve existing infrastructure like roads and bridges by providing alternatives to traditional ground transportation. Once completed, the UAM Grand Challenge will provide critical data on how UAM aircraft will integrate and operate in the National Airspace System.

While thoughts of taking a UAM aircraft to work or a drone deliver your package to your door step may seem like something out of the Jetsons, NASA’s research has made this plausible in the near future for the aviation industry. For more on what it takes to make UAM a reality, see our CEO Eric Fanning’s testimony earlier this year.)

Work in aeronautics may not receive the same glamorous attention as space exploration, but with continued investment, these advancements in aviation will have a profound impact on how we travel and explore our world.