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Crew-Vehicle Sytems Research Facility
+ Overview
+ B747-400 Simulator
+ ATC Simulator
+ Multimedia Gallery

NASA maintains a number of Air Traffic Control (ATC) environments and laboratories, but the ATC Laboratory at CVSRF is unique in that it provides generic ATC capability rather than an exact duplicate of the current system operating in the United States.

Designed to support air traffic control research projects, the ATC Lab is a vital simulation asset that is capable of operating in three modes: single-cab (with either the ACFS or the B747-400 participating in the study), dual-cab (with both cabs participating), or stand-alone. The ATC Lab can also participate in simulations run from the ATC tower at FutureFlight Central. This capability allows for a complete “gate-to-gate” flight simulation involving all facets of the national air traffic system.

The ATC Lab uses a NASA-developed target generator, which allows it to function either as a control facility or simply as a traffic generator. The target generator provides high-fidelity, site-specific radar video mapping, as well as accurate flight dynamics and piloting systems that effectively recreate both real and proposed flight operations within any airspace worldwide. Data created by the target generator, including aircraft flight plans and state information, mimic the behavior of actual airspace traffic during simulations, and new features are continually being added to support ongoing and future ATC system development. Because these technologies were developed in-house, we can incorporate a virtually limitless range of custom configurations and alterations of the source code.

The ATC Lab consists of 10 PC-based computer workstations that can be used to create any combination of radar controller positions and “pseudo-pilot” stations.

Screenshot of the Pseudo Pilot Station
Pseudopilot display for the LAX traffic arrival scenario depicted in the TRACON air traffic controller display below

These workstations may be configured for either the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) sector or an Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) sector. Simulated VHF or UHF radio communications are available from all of the radar controller positions to both the CVSRF aircraft simulators and the pseudo-pilot stations.

Screenshot of a Terminal Radar Approach Control Display
A TRACON air traffic controller display showing west traffic arrival flow into LAX

ATC operations typically consist of dynamically changing verbal or data-link messages, addressed to or generated by other aircraft flying in the immediate vicinity – which can result in a high-stress work environment. This fast-paced environment can have a significant impact on the pilots’ and flight crew’s performance, and these intense work conditions must be realistically depicted during simulations in order to conduct credible research. To provide this necessary level of realism, human pseudo-pilots (rather than computer systems) interact with pilots in the flight simulators and other personnel performing ATC functions. The pseudo-pilots are assigned specific sectors within the simulated airspace and control a variety of “pseudo-aircraft.” Using keyboard input, graphical user interfaces, and clicks of a computer mouse, they can respond to instructions from the controllers.

Commissioned in 1983, the ATC Lab has played a valuable role in a broad range of experiments and demonstrations, such as:
  • examining workload issues for free flight and the transition from an overloaded free-flight environment to a ground controlled environment;
  • testing current and proposed Noise Abatement Procedures (NAPs) for low-noise arrivals with emphasis on Continuous Descent Approach, controller workload, and situational awareness;
  • evaluating human factors in simulated ATC training and comparing simulated airline aircrews relative to actual line operations and controller-pilot data link communications in the domestic en route environment; and
  • assessing airborne based concepts for lateral spacing and separation of aircraft on approach to parallel runways.
Details on these and other projects involving the ATC can be found in SimLabs’ Annual Reports, which are available for download in Adobe Acrobat PDF format from our online library in the Annual Reports section.

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Last Updated: April 5, 2017

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