NASA center creates in-air scenarios

The air traffic control tower is real, but the panoramic windows show virtual
views of any large airport.

NASA’s Virtual Airport Tower at Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., can
simulate weather conditions, times of day, sounds, and up to 200 moving planes and ground

Raytheon Data Systems developed the simulation programs for NASA.

The tower will be available this summer at “an operating fee that covers our
costs,” said NASA deputy project manager Nancy Dorighi.

She said the Federal Aviation Administration, the Defense Department and commercial
airport operators are interested in trying out the tower to test the safety of new runway

A 360-degree Virtual Reality Modeling Language image is on the Web at

The tower’s 16-processor SGI Onyx2 visualization supercomputer displays 3-D
graphics on the windows in real time, drawing from sources such as satellite images,
digitized photos and architectural data.

The Irix platform has 2G of memory and six geometry processing pipelines, each with
four raster manager pipelines.

Up to 12 people can occupy the air traffic control positions on the tower’s top
floor. The lower floor has space for up to eight ramp controllers and up to 13 virtual

The pilots can use workstations with 16-inch, flat-panel touch screens that simulate
radar, wind indicator, clock and altimeter readings.


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