NTB: What kinds of advanced aircraft design are we seeing now?
Tran: NASA’s job is to develop the technology and let the commercial companies pick it up and make it into reality. One of the major design studies is a project called Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA), which is 6 or 7 different integrated technology demonstration projects. We help Langley Research Center in a couple areas such as our ultra-high bypass engine integration work. Those technologies are going to be demonstrated in collaboration with the aircraft industry for possible use in future aircraft.
NTB: What work is being done with air traffic management, another area that you focus on as deputy director in the aeronautics directorate?
Tran: That is a very exciting area right now for us. We are working on multiple components where we can increase the efficiency of the airspace. One of the things that we’re working on, and actually just sent its deliverables to the FAA, is called the Efficient Descent Advisor (EDA). Essentially it’s about providing decision support for the air traffic controllers that allows them to issue fuel efficient continuous descents during peak traffic periods that save time and also improve fuel burn for the aircraft, which is a huge cost for the airline. We came up with this tool that would help increase efficiency during the terminal and approach area, and also reduce the fuel burn (and therefore the carbon emission).
Another area that we work on right now that is very exciting for our team is DWR (dynamic weather routing). The technology is right now being tested in Texas, and our partner, American Airlines, is very interested in that. It is essentially a tool that checks the weather information, looks at the routing, and suggests more efficient routes around the weather.
ATM Technology Demonstration-1 (ATD-1) is one of our major activities for aeronautics. We’re hoping to do field testing and demonstrations in 2016 and 2017. That would allow us to demonstrate advanced ground and avionics technology concurrently. We partner with our Langley researchers, and we’re working on the ground tool and overall integration of the system. The combination between the three sets of tools would increase the efficiency of air travel significantly.
NTB: Does the emerging nature of drone technology and unmanned aircraft affect the technologies that you’re making and the work that you do?
Tran: We are involved in a project called “UAS in the NAS” that’s looking at how unmanned vehicles are going to behave and be incorporated into the national airspace system.
What is your favorite part of the job?
Tran: My favorite part of the job is to be able to go and sit down and talk to the technical staff. Most of my time is spent at meetings and telecoms, but I do try to go to a building and find somebody and just talk to them. I go to the lab and see what they’re doing. I try to understand what they do so I can better represent them back to the program or the project itself, and be able to advocate for our people.
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