In the five decades since NASA was created, the agency has sustained its legacy from the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) in playing a major role in U.S. aeronautics research and has contributed substantially to U.S. preeminence in civil and military aviation. This preeminence has contributed significantly to the overall economy and balance of trade of the United States through the sales of aircraft throughout the world. NASA’s contributions have included advanced flight control systems, de-icing devices, thrust-vectoring systems, wing fuselage drag reduction configurations, aircraft noise reduction, advanced transonic airfoil and winglet designs, and flight systems. Each of these contributions was successfully demonstrated through NASA flight research programs. Equally important, the aircraft industry would not have adopted these and similar advances without NASA flight demonstration on full-scale aircraft flying in an environment identical to that in which the aircraft are to operate—in other words, flight research. These contributions may be measured in improved safety of aircraft operations, improved fuel savings, reduced environmental impact, and increased air traffic efficiency. NASA has also directly contributed to the development of military aircraft and technology over many decades. For example, NASA research led to understanding of the “area rule” for transonic flight that led to the redesign of military aircraft. More recently, NASA has supported research on the safe operation of military aircraft at high angles of attack as well as stall recovery.
Flight research is a tool, not a conclusion. It often informs simulation and modeling and wind tunnel testing. Aeronautics research does not follow a linear path from simulation to wind tunnels to flying an aircraft. The loss of flight research capabilities at NASA has therefore hindered the agency’s ability to make progress throughout its aeronautics program by removing a primary tool for research.
Despite the reductions in its aeronautics budget, NASA still maintains substantial capabilities to contribute to aeronautics and help maintain U.S. aeronautics leadership, one of the original priorities established for NASA in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. NASA also has a major role—identified in its original charter—in supporting the national security goals of the United States.1 The requirements for safety and performance, and
1 Both the National Aeronautics and Space Act as put forward by Congress (Public Law No. 111-314, 124 Stat. 3328, December 18, 2010) and Executive Order 13419, “National Aeronautics Research and Development” in December 2006, substantiate the purpose of a broader role for the agency. The Space Act itself states that NASA will “… contribute materially to one or more of the following areas:… (2) The improvement of the usefulness, performance, speed, safety, and efficiency of aeronautical and space vehicles and… (6) The making available to agencies directly concerned with national defense of discoveries that have military value or significance, and the furnishing by such agencies, to the civilian agency established to direct and control nonmilitary aeronautical and space activities, of information as to discoveries which have
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Summary In the five decades since NASA was created, the agency has sustained its legacy from the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) in playing a major role in U.S. aeronautics research and has contributed substantially to U.S. preeminence in civil and military aviation. This preeminence has contributed significantly to the overall economy and balance of trade of the United States through the sales of aircraft throughout the world. NASA's contributions have included advanced flight control systems, de-icing devices, thrust-vectoring systems, wing fuselage drag reduction configurations, aircraft noise reduction, advanced transonic airfoil and winglet designs, and flight systems. Each of these contributions was successfully demonstrated through NASA flight research programs. Equally important, the aircraft industry would not have adopted these and similar advances without NASA flight demonstration on full-scale aircraft flying in an environment identical to that in which the aircraft are to operate--in other words, flight research. These contributions may be measured in improved safety of aircraft operations, improved fuel savings, reduced environmental impact, and increased air traffic efficiency. NASA has also directly contributed to the development of military aircraft and technology over many decades. For example, NASA research led to understanding of the "area rule" for transonic flight that led to the redesign of military aircraft. More recently, NASA has supported research on the safe operation of military aircraft at high angles of attack as well as stall recovery. Flight research is a tool, not a conclusion. It often informs simulation and modeling and wind tunnel testing. Aeronautics research does not follow a linear path from simulation to wind tunnels to flying an aircraft. The loss of flight research capabilities at NASA has therefore hindered the agency's ability to make progress throughout its aeronautics program by removing a primary tool for research. Despite the reductions in its aeronautics budget, NASA still maintains substantial capabilities to contribute to aeronautics and help maintain U.S. aeronautics leadership, one of the original priorities established for NASA in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. NASA also has a major role--identified in its original charter--in supporting the national security goals of the United States.1 The requirements for safety and performance, and 1 Both the National Aeronautics and Space Act as put forward by Congress (Public Law No. 111-314, 124 Stat. 3328, December 18, 2010) and Executive Order 13419, "National Aeronautics Research and Development" in December 2006, substantiate the purpose of a broader role for the agency. The Space Act itself states that NASA will ". . . contribute materially to one or more of the following areas: . . . (2) The improvement of the usefulness, performance, speed, safety, and efficiency of aeronautical and space vehicles and . . . (6) The making available to agencies directly concerned with national defense of discoveries that have military value or significance, and the furnishing by such agencies, to the civilian agency established to direct and control nonmilitary aeronautical and space activities, of information as to discoveries which have 1
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2 RECAPTURING NASA'S AERONAUTICS FLIGHT RESEARCH CAPABILITIES for lower environmental impact, are so demanding that only full-scale testing of new systems and concepts will bridge the gap between laboratory research and impact on the U.S. economy, national security, and the environ- ment. Although ground testing and simulations will continue to add value to the advancement of aeronautics, only flight testing will convince industry, regulators, and the public that new inventions in aeronautics are acceptable. NASA AERONAUTICS IN A BUDGET-CONSTRAINED ENVIRONMENT NASA asked the National Research Council (NRC) to conduct a study "to assess and make recommendations about how best to integrate flight research into the current Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate's (ARMD) fundamental research activities and integrated systems research activities." The NRC's Committee to Assess NASA's Aeronautics Flight Research Capabilities concluded that the type and the sophistication of flight research currently being conducted by NASA today are relatively low and that the agency's overall progress in aeronautics is severely constrained by its inability to actually advance its research projects to the flight research stage, a step that is vital to bridging the confidence gap. NASA has spent much effort protecting existing research projects conducted at low levels, but it has not been able to pursue most of these projects to the point that they actually produce anything useful. Without the ability to actually take flight, NASA's aeronautics research cannot progress, cannot make new discoveries, and cannot contribute to U.S. aerospace preeminence. The committee's statement of task charged the committee with looking at the current baseline budget scenario, an augmented scenario, and an unconstrained budget scenario for ARMD. The committee considered the "uncon- strained" scenario to be unrealistic given the current pressures facing the federal and NASA budgets. However, the committee notes that an "augmented budget" of a relatively modest amount--for example, shifting only 1 percent of the overall NASA budget to aeronautics--could have a significant effect on the aeronautics program's ability to conduct flight testing of several current initiatives. The portion of the aeronautics budget by expense category related to government personnel and support contractors is 56 percent, and facility maintenance now represents 14 percent of the NASA aeronautics research budget.2 Only limited resources can be committed effectively to flight research programs for the modification or design and construction of research vehicles. As a result, NASA no longer initiates larger-scale, "flagship" vehicles for flight testing. FOCUS AND DIRECTION OF NASA'S AERONAUTICS PROGRAM One of the major problems facing NASA's aeronautics program is that it has been directed to pursue a large number of goals, but it clearly lacks the resources to accomplish more than a few of them. The NRC 2006 study Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics: Foundation for the Future3 identified 51 high-priority civil challenges that NASA should pursue. NASA has made limited progress in achieving these goals, and the committee concluded that this number is too high for NASA to achieve meaningful progress, given existing resources. ARMD appears to be avoiding flight research because of the perceived cost of flight test and because of what has become a risk- averse culture. So that better progress can be made in developing new technologies and transitioning them to commercial and military aeronautics use, the committee makes the following recommendation: Recommendation: NASA should select and implement at any given time a small number (two to five) of focused, integrated, higher-risk, higher-payoff, and interdisciplinary programs. The committee concluded that these priority focused efforts will require flight testing to advance useful knowledge and should therefore include a path to flight. Therefore, NASA should also develop cost-effective value or significance to that agency." Executive Order 13419 states that: "Continued progress in aeronautics, the science of flight, is essential to America's economic success and the protection of America's security interests at home and around the globe." 2 J. Shin, "NASA Aeronautic Research," briefing to the National Research Council Committee to Assess NASA's Aeronautics Flight Research Capabilities, April 18, 2011, Edwards, Calif., slide 7. 3 National Research Council, Decadal Survey of Civil Aeronautics: Foundation for the Future, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2006.
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SUMMARY 3 flight research vehicles to demonstrate innovative aerospace technology in flight. A new innovative air vehicle should be launched each year. To make meaningful progress in these programs the scope of activity for each vehicle research program would be on the order of $30 million to $50 million total per vehicle over a 3-year period--that is, $10 million to $15 million per vehicle per year. The priority focused programs should be drawn from the research areas identified by the 2006 NRC decadal survey of civil aeronautics, in order to achieve progress for fundamental aeronautics as well as other relevant related military requirements. To implement this recommendation without additional funding for ARMD, NASA should phase out the majority of its lower-priority aeronau- tics activities. The committee concluded that without additional funding for aeronautics, NASA could begin to implement this recommendation--for instance, implementing two to three new vehicles--provided that it phases out the majority of its lower-priority aeronautics activities. If aeronautics receives additional funding, NASA could implement three to five new vehicles. Naturally, there is a tradeoff between the size of the projects and the number the agency could pursue--that is, more, smaller projects versus fewer, larger projects. As stated, the committee estimated that to make significant progress in each of the selected areas, $30 million to $50 million (total) would be the appropriate scope for such activities. An ambitious unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) project could be built at the lower end of the range, while a more ambitious piloted vehicle could be built at the higher end. For example, Sikorsky's piloted X-2 helicopter, which recently won the Collier Trophy, cost approximately $50 million. The number of projects that NASA is able to implement at any given time (i.e., two to five) will be based on the size of the projects, their cost, and NASA's ability to focus its research efforts. The innovative air vehicles that NASA should implement are relatively small projects (total cost of no more than $50 million over 3 years), but should be intended to accomplish goals established in the 2006 decadal survey. Accomplishing this will require careful leadership, tough decisions, and for NASA to cull its lower-priority aeronautics activities to free up funds for conducting more flight research. NASA currently has no "flagship" class aeronautics projects, which the committee defines as larger-scale, technically ambitious aircraft projects that will make substantial advancements in fields such as environmentally responsible aviation, supersonics, aviation safety, uninhabited aerial systems in the National Air Space, rotorcraft, or hypersonics. NASA currently operates only one aircraft with an X-plane designation and has no high-visibility aircraft flight research projects under way. The committee believes that the new innovative air vehicles that NASA should be developing can be a mix of piloted and unpiloted aircraft and "flagships" as well as less expensive and complex vehicles. But the committee notes that NASA has made the greatest contributions in the past when it has set high goals and believes that one of the highest goals that the agency's aeronautics program can aspire to is winning the Collier Trophy in aeronautics, a goal that is well within the agency's reach. (See Chapter 3 for further information on the Collier Trophy.) The committee was also charged with looking at "all ARMD research." However, although the committee looked at all ARMD research, time, and resource constraints, the committee could select only three areas from across ARMD's full program for detailed study. In making that selection the committee decided to carry out a case study from the Integrated Systems Research Program--which is a relatively recent addition to NASA aeronautics--as well as two case studies from the more traditional Fundamental Aeronautics Program. (NASA's aeronautics programs are discussed in greater detail in Appendix B.) Although these case studies are not intended to be exclusive, their selection focused on whether they are examples of programs where NASA already possesses the core research to make significant progress, provided that the agency better focuses its people and resources and pushes some of this research into the flight research phase. In carrying out the three case studies, the committee identified several actions NASA could take to make further progress in these three areas, if the agency determines that they are a priority. However these findings are presented here without prejudice to any future prioritization choices NASA may make for progressing to flight research activities. Although the committee did not prioritize these findings, they could prove helpful to the agency in the long run. In the case of the ERA (Environmentally Responsible Aviation) and supersonics projects, the committee believes that NASA could develop new experimental aircraft to conduct flight research and advance the agency's
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4 RECAPTURING NASA'S AERONAUTICS FLIGHT RESEARCH CAPABILITIES already extensive technology development in these areas into the next phase. In the case of hypersonics, the committee found that the establishment of a long-range goal could lead to substantial technological development along the way. A common theme appeared for many of the projects that the committee examined: lack of a clearly defined "path to flight" for the projects. The committee noted that this tendency was most prevalent for the ERA project but was common to other NASA aeronautics endeavors as well. Simply put, NASA has initiated many projects with no clear roadmap for how they would eventually be tested in the environment they would operate in. This resulted in the following recommendation: Recommendation: NASA should ensure that each of its projects has a defined path to in-flight testing in an appropriate environment. These paths must include details of the vehicle to be used for the flight research, be it a modification to an existing testbed or a purpose-designed and built vehicle. The overall program must ensure that funding is available to complete the in-flight research portion of the project in a timely manner, either by appropriately using a subscale test vehicle or by dedicating major funding levels to a "flagship" effort. ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE AVIATION Because the committee does not have the data that would be required, it has not made a specific recommenda- tion for a focus project for environmentally responsible aviation. However, an example of a focus project might be the most promising configuration from the ERA N+2 work. Either the Blended Wing Body (BWB) that was flight tested as the X-48B or the AMELIA (Advanced Model for Extreme Lift and Improved Aeroacoustics) con- figuration that has been tested in the NASA Ames wind tunnel could be selected based on the results and future promise. Similarly other programs such as Aviation Safety can propose focus projects. Finding: If NASA determines that progress in Environmentally Responsible Aviation is a priority, then the agency could collaborate with the Department of Defense (DOD), the Federal Aviation Administra- tion, other government agencies, and industry on a subsonic experimental aircraft that would integrate multiple advanced aerodynamic, structural, and engine technologies. The most effective approach would be to ensure that the flight test program, while integrating multiple technologies, is also planned so as to test single objectives for each test. With a view to maximizing effectiveness, as these collaborations are carried out the distribution of research results and data cannot be limited to industry and academia and should be understandable, presentable, and accessible to a broad audience. SUPERSONICS Finding: If NASA determines that progress in supersonics is a priority, then given the progress in low- boom technology that has been demonstrated over the past decade and in light of this research challenge being the principal remaining barrier to routine supersonic operations, NASA together with the FAA could proceed immediately with an integrated technology experimental aircraft program to validate low-boom acoustic ground signatures and establish a set of quantitative criteria for the sonic boom footprint over land. Finding: If NASA determines that progress in supersonics is a priority, and recognizing that engine tech- nology and propulsion integration remain the next critical investment barrier to progress in this field, then NASA together with DOD could develop a robust technology maturation and flight validation program with key partners for fielding a product variable cycle engine and the integrated propulsion systems for supersonic flight.
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SUMMARY 5 HYPERSONICS Finding: If NASA determines that progress in hypersonics research is a priority, then the agency could reform the Hypersonics project with the specific goal of development and demonstration of the technolo- gies for a hypersonic vehicle within 25 years to enable point-to-point flights from any point on Earth to any other point in a few hours. NASA could coordinate development plans with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and other DOD organizations in order to make the program affordable and enhance its development. Establishing such a goal would help to focus current NASA hypersonics research and enable the agency to develop a series of steps to achieve it, most likely consisting of multiple small vehicles leading to a "flagship"- class integrated vehicle. ORGANIZATION, COLLABORATION, AND COMMUNICATION Other governments, other U.S. government agencies, and numerous commercial companies are all engaged in various forms of aeronautics research. NASA has the ability to collaborate with various partners and currently does so in certain areas such as hypersonics research. In the current budget environment it has become increasingly important that the agency is expertly managed and that the best effort is made to produce useful and effective flight research. Recommendation: NASA aeronautics should aggressively pursue collaboration with the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. aerospace industry, and international aeronautics research agencies. NASA should adopt management practices to facilitate effective collaboration and treat external organizations as customers and partners. NASA leadership should develop a formal process for regularly soliciting input from the U.S. aerospace industry and uni- versities as well as key government agencies to ensure the relevance of its flight research programs to national needs. In the relatively recent past, when it was conducting more flight research than it currently conducts, NASA successfully sponsored important aeronautical innovation with relatively modest flight research budgets. NASA aeronautics research is entirely capable of initiating a program aimed at developing cost-effective flight research vehicles to demonstrate innovative aerospace technology in flight. NASA has played a preeminent role in inspir- ing the next generation through its leadership role in space exploration. Many aeronautical engineers working in industry and government today were inspired by NASA's flagship flight research programs such as the X-15 hypersonic research program. Unfortunately, there is no such flagship mission today to inspire the next generation, and current small-scale research projects are not sufficient to attract much attention. Despite an outstanding history of NASA-led aeronautics flight research successfully transitioning to the U.S. aerospace industry. Failure to effectively communicate these accomplishments appears to have led directly to reduced programmatic and political advocacy, even within the aerospace community, and ultimately results in reduced budget authority. Improved communication of NASA's key innovations from flight research programs to its key stakeholders will help NASA justify future investment in new flight research programs. A major problem facing NASA aeronautics is one of perception--the view that because aviation is a mature field, government-funded research has little to contribute, and that NASA has done little in this field in decades. This is a false conclusion, and, as this report demonstrates (see Chapter 3), NASA has made major contributions to aeronautics in recent decades. Industry and DOD believe that NASA can continue to play an important role. When answering the question, "Why should NASA be involved in aeronautics research, particularly conducting flight research?" the committee concluded that industry in these economic times cannot and will not take on the full cost risk of moving technologies from the laboratory to operations. NASA's charter tasks the agency to help with this process. NASA's role is to develop requirements for the next research vehicles and then work with industry to build and test those aircraft. One aspect of communication to stakeholders is the effective dissemination of technical data to relevant
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6 RECAPTURING NASA'S AERONAUTICS FLIGHT RESEARCH CAPABILITIES aerospace researchers after a flight research program is completed. To this day, NACA reports, generated more than 50 years ago, are rich resources of information for the aerospace community and are relatively accessible. However, more recent NASA aeronautics flight research programs have generated useful data that are relatively inaccessible to aerospace engineers and scientists. Recommendation: NASA aeronautics should become the nation's repository of flight research data and flight test results and should make these archival data readily accessible to key stakeholders-- the engineers and scientists in industry, academia, and other government agencies. NASA should also require principal investigators in flight research projects to publish their results and provide funding for them to do so. NASA's flight research inventory is a mix of vehicles that are currently distributed across NASA centers, including Dryden Flight Research Center, Glenn Research Center, Ames Research Center, and Langley Research Center. NASA may be able to achieve greater efficiencies by designating a single center as the primary flight research center for the agency. Recommendation: NASA aeronautics' leadership should study designating Dryden Flight Research Center as the primary flight research organization of NASA, with responsibility for the efficient use of NASA flight research aircraft, facilities, and other support resources. Dryden should adopt a customer-focused approach to flight research sponsored by NASA and external partners. HOW TO READ THIS REPORT Chapter 1 of this report discusses the motivation for NASA to pursue flight research, addressing aspects of the committee's task such as identifying the challenges where research program success can be achieved most effectively through flight research. Chapter 2 contains three case studies chosen by the committee to illustrate the state of NASA ARMD. These include the ERA project and the Fundamental Aeronautics Program's Hypersonics and Supersonics projects. Chapter 2 also addresses the subject of UAVs (also referred to as uninhabited aerial systems, or UASs). Chapter 3 describes issues with the ARMD organization and management and offers solutions. In addition, the chapter discusses current impediments to progress, including the need to demonstrate relevance to stakeholders, the need for leadership, and the lack of focus relative to available resources. Table S.1 identifies the charges in the committee's statement of task and where they are specifically addressed in the report. TABLE S.1 Tasks Addressed in This Report Taska Chapters Within the set of goals and challenges being addressed by NASA's research program, identify those challenges . . . 1, 2 Identify any goals and challenges in the NASA aeronautics program . . . 1, 2, 3 Review the current portfolio of ARMD flight research activities and the flight research needs . . . 1, 2, 3 Review the capabilities and limitations of the current fleet . . . 2, 3 Consider how the research opportunities might be pursued . . . 2, 3 Recommend how NASA might maintain a robust flight research program . . . 1, 2, 3 Consider the role of X-planes and/or demonstrator vehicles . . . 2, 3 Consider the potential benefit of using unclassified flight research testbeds . . . 2, 3 a Taken from the committee's statement of task; see the preface of this report.