NTSB Investigators Depend on NASA's Expertise; Space Agency Has Helped Look into Cause of Air Crashes

When an American Airlines jet mysteriously plunged to the ground in New York City five years ago, federal crash investigators quickly turned to NASA for help.

Republican and Democratic members of Congress are attempting to add $100 million to NASA's aviation research budget of $724 million. Lawmakers added money to the president's budget request for NASA aeronautics last year, too.

Advances credited to NASA

Industry groups such as the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and the Aerospace Industries Association say the cuts will harm their members.

Boeing is building a new jet, the 787, that is made mostly of carbon fiber instead of aluminum alloys. That aircraft would not have been possible without the work on such materials performed by NASA, says John Provenzano, director of government affairs at the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

In the area of safety, much of what is understood about pilot fatigue, a growing concern at the NTSB, comes from research conducted by NASA.

"Some of the new technology that we will have in 20 years won't be developed if we walk away from the research and development," Provenzano says.

"I don't see much going into the seed corn right now for the future," says Tom Snyder, the former director of Aeronautics and Flight Systems at Ames. "That's quite troubling." Contributions propel aviation into the future

Though mostly known for putting humans into space, NASA has for decades been one of the world's leading sources of technological innovation in aviation. NASA's aeronautics program has faced steady cuts over the past decade and the Bush administration is proposing an additional 20% reduction next year. The agency is credited with developing:

*Winglets. These curved wing tips make aircraft more fuel efficient. Most newly built jets come with winglets, and airlines are adding them to thousands of older jets because they save money.

*Composite materials. Carbon fiber and other non-metals are rapidly replacing aluminum alloys on jets. Composites are lighter and stronger than metal and do not corrode. Some small jets, such as the Adam Aircraft A700 now in development, are being made almost exclusively out of composites. Boeing's new 787 will have a non-metal fuselage.

*Pilot safety training. Every airline pilot in the USA, and many worldwide, is trained in how to avoid deadly errors using methods developed by NASA.

*Computerized aircraft controls. European manufacturer Airbus borrowed heavily from NASA research when it introduced its revolutionary flight-control system that prohibits pilots from making severe maneuvers. Boeing has incorporated similar technology in its latest models.

Source: USA TODAY research

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