FAA History Lesson -- September 26

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Sep 26, 1964: The Bureau of Budget released the first significant amount of hardware-procurement funds for modernizing the National Airspace System (NAS). These funds were specifically designated for installing the first complete NAS En Route Stage A configuration (FAA's semiautomated system for en route air traffic control) at the ARTCC at Jacksonville, Fla. (See Feb 1, 1967.) Modernization of both the en route and terminal air traffic control subsystems of NAS had been recommended in 1961 by the Project Beacon task force (see Sep 11, 1961). The modernization was a long-range program that would require a decade or longer to fully implement.

The air traffic control system targeted for replacement was essentially a manually operated system employing radar, general purpose computers, radio communications, and air traffic controllers. Only five ARTCCs (New York, Boston, Washington, Cleveland, and Indianapolis) had computers capable of processing flight data, calculating flight progress, checking for errors, and distributing flight data to control sectors. The old system had a two-dimensional radar display, which permitted controllers to view only an aircraft's range and bearing. Vital information such as altitude and identity was obtained through voice contact with the pilot or from the flight plan. To retain the correct identity of an aircraft target, controllers were required to tag the targets with plastic markers (known as "shrimp boats") and move the markers by hand across the radar display. The planned semiautomated system would perform these functions automatically, faster, and more accurately than the controller. Properly equipped aircraft would report their altitude, identity, and other flight data automatically at any given time. The computer processed messages would appear on a radar display next to the aircraft they identified, in the form of alphanumeric symbols which would make the radar display three-dimensional in effect. (See Oct 6, 1964, May 24, 1965, and Dec 30, 1968.) ”

Feb 13, 1973: Ceremonies at the Memphis Air Traffic Control Center celebrated the center’s switch over to computer processing of flight-plan data, completing Phase One of the NAS En Route Stage A, FAA's decade-long program to automate and computerize the nation's en route air traffic control system (see Sep 26, 1964). With the new computer installation at Memphis, all twenty ARTCCs in the contiguous 48 states gained an automatic capability to collect and distribute information about each aircraft's course and altitude to all the sector controllers along its flight path. Pilots still had to file flight plans at flight service stations and military operations offices, but now computers would handle the centers' "bookkeeping functions" of assigning and printing out controller flight strips. The new computers also had the ability to record and distribute any changes registered in aircraft flight plans en route. The system eventually tied in with the Automated Radar Terminal System (ARTS III) units then being installed at major airports (see Oct 4, 1971 and Feb 15, 1973). Phase Two of the en route automation program was still under way; it would provide controllers at the twenty centers with new radar displays that would show such vital flight information as altitude and speed directly on the screen. (See Feb 18, 1970 and Jun 14, 1973.)”

”Aug 26, 1975: The commissioning of the computerized radar data processing system (RDP) at the Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center marked the end of the final phase of the completion of NAS En Route Stage A, FAA's program of automating and computerizing the nation's en route air traffic control system, an effort covering more than a decade (see Feb 13, 1973). Miami was the last of the 20 ARTCCs to receive RDP capability. The RDP system consisted of three key elements: radar digitizers located at long-range radar sites that converted raw radar data and aircraft transponder beacon signals into computer-readable signals transmitted to the centers' computers; computer complexes in each center able to relay this information to the controllers' screens; and new screens that displayed the information to the controllers in alphanumeric characters.”

Would anyone like to bet how long it will take NextGen (which hasn’t even been designed yet) to be completed ?

Don Brown
September 26, 2007


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