NASA Brings Back the X-Plane, and This One’s Electric

An artist's concept of NASA's X-57 Maxwell aircraft, a new electric X-plane that is quieter, more efficient and more environmentally friendly. Credits: NASA Langley/Advanced Concepts Lab, AMA, Inc

While NASA has had a long and storied history of building and testing experimental aircraft – called X-planes — it has been almost a decade since the space agency has developed any new aircraft. But an initiative announced earlier this year as part of the new budget has NASA back designing, building and flying a new series of X-planes, with the goal of creating more “green” aviation technologies that can then be utilized by the aeronautics industry.

NASA unveiled the first plane in the new X series, an electric aircraft with 14 motors integrated into a new wing design. This experimental airplane has been designated the X-57, with the nickname of “Maxwell,” to honor James Clerk Maxwell, the 19th century Scottish physicist who did groundbreaking work in electromagnetism.

“With the return of piloted X-planes to NASA’s research capabilities – which is a key part of our 10-year-long New Aviation Horizons initiative – the general aviation-sized X-57 will take the first step in opening a new era of aviation,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, speaking at an annual forum of theAmerican Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

This artist's concept of NASA's X-57 Maxwell aircraft shows the plane's specially designed wing and 14 electric motors. Credits: NASA Langley/Advanced Concepts Lab, AMA, Inc.
This artist’s concept of NASA’s X-57 Maxwell aircraft shows the plane’s specially designed wing and 14 electric motors. Credits: NASA Langley/Advanced Concepts Lab, AMA, Inc.

Other new X-plane designs include larger transport-scale aircraft that will use less fuel and create less noise, and a business-jet-sized supersonic vehicle that burns low carbon bio-fuels and generates only quiet sonic booms that people on the ground will barely hear. The main goals of the new X-planes will be to demonstrate how airliners can burn half the fuel, saving airline companies money, while generating 75 percent less pollution during each flight as compared to now. They’ll also be much quieter than today’s jets.

The X-57 Maxwell has newly designed long, skinny wings embedded with 14 electric motors – 12 on the leading edge for take offs and landings, and one larger motor on each wing tip for use while at cruise altitude. The idea is that distributing electric power across a number of motors integrated with an aircraft will result in a five-time reduction in the energy required for a private plane to cruise at 175 mph.

The Bell X-1, in which Chuck Yeager “broke” the sound barrier in 1947. Credit: NASA
The Bell X-1, in which Chuck Yeager “broke” the sound barrier in 1947. Credit: NASA

NASA’s first X-plane was the X-1, which in 1947 became the first airplane to fly faster than the speed of sound. It was flown by Chuck Yeager and was featured in the book and movie “The Right Stuff.” While many of the aircraft were well known — like the X-15 that became the fastest piloted aircraft of the X-plane program — other aircraft were developed clandestinely. Other experimental aircraft included research on lifting bodies and other wing designs or unique engines like the scramjet. Other experimental aircraft didn’t carry the “X” designation, like the Navy’s D-558-II Skyrocket, but was flown by Scott Crossfield in 1953 to become the first airplane to travel twice the speed of sound, or Mach 2.

“Dozens of X-planes of all shapes, sizes and purposes have followed – all of them contributing to our stature as the world’s leader in aviation and space technology,” said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. “Planes like the X-57, and the others to come, will help us maintain that role.”

Further reading: NASA

Dramatic Imagery from NASA of Supersonic Shock Waves

This schlieren image of a T-38C was captured using the patent-pending BOSCO technique and then processed with NASA-developed code to reveal shock wave structures. Credit: NASA.

NASA is using a 150-year-old photographic technique with a few 21st century tweaks to capture unique and stunning images of the shockwaves created by supersonic aircraft.

Called schlieren imagery, the technique can be used to visualize supersonic airflow with full-scale aircraft in flight. Usually, this can only be done in wind tunnels using scale models, but being able to study real-sized aircraft flying through Earth’s atmosphere provides better results, and can help engineers design better and quieter supersonic planes.

And a side benefit is that the images are amazing and dramatic, creating a little “shock” and awe.

This schlieren image dramatically displays the shock wave of a supersonic jet flying over the Mojave Desert. Researchers used NASA-developed image processing software to remove the desert background, then combined and averaged multiple frames to produce a clear picture of the shock waves. Credit: NASA.
This schlieren image dramatically displays the shock wave of a supersonic jet flying over the Mojave Desert. Researchers used NASA-developed image processing software to remove the desert background, then combined and averaged multiple frames to produce a clear picture of the shock waves.
Credit: NASA.

Earlier this year, NASA released some schlieren imagery taken with a high-speed camera mounted on the underside of a NASA Beechcraft B200 King Air, which captured images at 109 frames per second while a supersonic aircraft passed several thousand feet underneath over a speckled dessert floor. Special image processing software was used to remove the desert background, then combine and average multiple frames, which produces a clear picture of the shock waves. This is called air-to-air schlieren.

“Air-to-air schlieren is an important flight-test technique for locating and characterizing, with high spatial resolution, shock waves emanating from supersonic vehicles,” said Dan Banks, the principal investigator on the project, being done at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. “It allows us to see the shock wave geometry in the real atmosphere as the target aircraft flies through temperature and humidity gradients that cannot be duplicated in wind tunnels.”

But now they’ve started using a technique that might provide better results: using the Sun and Moon as a lit background. This backlit method is called Background-Oriented Schlieren using Celestial Objects, or BOSCO.

The speckled background or a bright light source is used for visualizing aerodynamic flow phenomena generated by aircraft or other objects passing between the camera and the backdrop.

This schlieren image of shock waves created by a T-38C in supersonic flight was captured using the sun’s edge as a light source and then processed using NASA-developed code. Credit: NASA.
This schlieren image of shock waves created by a T-38C in supersonic flight was captured using the sun’s edge as a light source and then processed using NASA-developed code.
Credit: NASA.

NASA explains the technique:

“Flow visualization is one of the fundamental tools of aeronautics research, and schlieren photography has been used for many years to visualize air density gradients caused by aerodynamic flow. Traditionally, this method has required complex and precisely aligned optics as well as a bright light source. Refracted light rays revealed the intensity of air density gradients around the test object, usually a model in a wind tunnel. Capturing schlieren images of a full-scale aircraft in flight was even more challenging due to the need for precise alignment of the plane with the camera and the sun.”

Then, there are variations on this technique. One recent demonstration used Calcium-K Eclipse Background Oriented Schlieren (CaKEBOS). According to Armstrong principal investigator Michael Hill, CaKEBOS was a proof of concept test to see how effectively the Sun could be used for background oriented schlieren photography.

Using the solar disk as a backdrop, its details revealed by a calcium-K optical filter, researchers processed this image to reveal shock waves created by a supersonic T-38C. Credit: NASA.
Using the solar disk as a backdrop, its details revealed by a calcium-K optical filter, researchers processed this image to reveal shock waves created by a supersonic T-38C.
Credit: NASA.

“Using a celestial object like the sun for a background has a lot of advantages when photographing a flying aircraft,” Hill said. “With the imaging system on the ground, the target aircraft can be at any altitude as long as it is far enough away to be in focus.”

Researchers found the ground-based method to be significantly more economical than air-to-air methods, since you don’t have to have a second aircraft carrying specially mounted camera equipment. The team said they can use off-the-shelf equipment.

Schlieren imagery was originally invented in 1864 by German physicist August Toepler.

Find out more about the air-to-air technique here and the BOSCO techniques here.

Say Goodbye to Boring Airline Safety Presentations

Image from the new Virgin American safety presentation video. Credit: Virgin Airlines.

No more falling asleep before takeoff during those boring safety presentations – at least on Virgin America Airlines. Delta Airlines previously made their safety presentation a bit more interesting (see below) but Virgin has taken the presentation to new heights, turning the video into a song and dance, literally, with the help of dance stars like Todrick Hall and Madd Chadd.

Virgin also has a competition for their next video and are looking for audition videos of the best freestyle dance moves — from ballet to breakdance. Find out how you can enter the competition and submit your video here.

The Awesome Complexity of Hypersonic Flight

Stanford professor Parviz Moin shows a simulation of temperature fluctuations from a scramjet exhaust.

Researchers at Stanford University are working on solutions to the inherent difficulties of hypersonic flight — speeds of over Mach 5, or 3,000 mph (4828 km/h) — and they’ve created one amazing computer model illustrating the dynamics of air temperature variations created at those intense speeds.


According to a news article from Stanford University, “Real-world laboratories can only go so far in reproducing such conditions, and test vehicles are rendered extraordinarily vulnerable. Of the U.S. government’s three most recent tests, two ended in vehicle failure.”

The video above shows some of the research team’s animation model — one of if not the largest engineering calculation ever created, it ran on 163,000 processors simultaneously and took 4 days to complete! And it’s utterly mesmerizing… not to mention invaluable to researchers.

“It’s something you could never have created unless you put computer scientists, mathematicians, mechanical engineers and aerospace engineers together in the same room,” said Juan Alonso, associate  professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford. “Do it, though, and you can produce some really magical results.”

In a (very tiny) nutshell, the behavior of air through an hypersonic engine — called a scramjet (for supersonic combustion ramjet) — changes at extremely high speeds. In order for aircraft to travel and maneuver reliably the scramjets have to be engineered to account for the way the air will respond.

“If you put too much fuel in the engine when you try to start it, you get a phenomenon called ‘thermal choking,’ where shock waves propagate back through the engine,” explained Parviz Moin, the Franklin P. and Caroline M. Johnson Professor in the School of Engineering. “Essentially, the engine doesn’t get enough oxygen and it dies. It’s like trying to light a match in a hurricane.”

“Understanding and being able to predict this phenomena has been one of the big challenges. It’s not one number or two numbers that come out of it at the end of the day… it is all of these structures that you see back there, the richness of it. It is understanding that allows you to control.”
– Parvis Moin, Stanford University professor

Thanks to this study, made possible by a 5-year $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, we may one day have aircraft that can travel up to 15 times the speed of sound. But the team’s groundbreaking computations aren’t just reserved for aeronautic aspirations.

“These same technologies can be used to quantify flow of air around wind farms, for example, or for complex global climate models,” said Alonso.

Read more on the Stanford University News here.

Video by Steve Fyffe and Linda Cicero. Source: Stanford University.

Star Lab: Space Science on the Wings of Starfighters

4Frontiers Corporation is testing an experimental launcher that will be launched into space via the F-1-4 Starfighter jet aircraft. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – A NewSpace company based out of New Port Richey in Florida is working to provide suborbital access to space for firms with scientific payloads. The Star Lab project is an experimental suborbital launcher, designed to provide frequent, less expensive access to sub-orbit. This could allow educational and scientific institutions across the nation to conduct experiments that would normally be impractical.

“If Star Lab proves itself viable, as we feel it will, this could open the door to a great many scientific institutions conducting their research by using the Star Lab vehicle,” said Mark Homnick the CEO of 4Frontiers Corporation.

On Oct. 27th, the Star Lab launcher was tested out while attached to the F-104 carrier aircraft via a series of fast-taxis up and down NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility located in Florida. Photo Credit:

4Frontiers is working to launch their Star Lab sounding rocket vehicle into sub-orbital space via an F-104 Starfighter that is part of the Starfighters demo team based out of Kennedy Space Center. 4Frontiers hopes to launch a prototype early next year with commercial flights to follow about six months later.

On Thursday Oct. 27, Star Lab began the first of its tests as it was mounted to a F-104 Starfighter and the aircraft then conducted several fast-taxi runs up and down NASA’s Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) with the Star Lab vehicle affixed to one of its pylons. On the last of these fast taxis, the jet aircraft deployed its drogue chute. These maneuvers were conducted to collect data to test the Star Lab vehicle’s response.

In terms of providing access to space, compared to more conventional means, the Star Lab project is considered to be an innovative and cost-effective means for scientific firms to test their experiments in the micro-gravity environment. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

The Star Lab suborbital vehicle is an air-launched sounding rocket, which is designed to be reusable and can reach a maximum altitude of about 120km.

The Star Lab vehicle carrying scientific payloads is launched from the venerable F-104 Starfighter jet. After the Star Lab payload stage reaches its predetermined altitude, it will descend by parachute into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. Star Lab is capable of carrying up to 13 payloads per flight.

Members of the Starfighters Demo Team along with technicians working on the Star Lab program work to attach the vehicle to the F-104 Starfighter. Photo Credit: Star Lab

All of these payloads will have access to the outside, sub-orbital space environment. One payload on each mission will be deployable by way of an ejectable nosecone on the Star Lab vehicle. 4Frontiers Corporation will handle integrating the payloads into the vehicle. After the craft splashes down, private recovery teams will collect and return it to 4Frontiers. It in turn will have the payloads off-loaded and the Star Lab vehicle will then be reprocessed for its next mission.

“Today, 4Frontiers and Starfighters, with the assistance of the Florida Space Grant Consortium, unveiled to the public for the first time the Star Lab suborbital project. Star Lab is an air-launched reusable sounding vehicle, built using COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) technology and able to reach altitudes of up to 120km,” said 4Frontiers’ Business Development Manager Panayot Slavov. “With its very reasonable price structure, frequent flight schedule and numerous educational and research opportunities, the vehicle and the project will turn into the suborbital research platform of choice for all those who are interested in experimenting and learning about suborbital space.”

The project was created through a cooperative agreement between the 4Frontiers Corporation, Starfighters Aerospace, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the University of Central Florida with funding provided by the NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium.

If all goes according to plan firms wanting to send their payloads into suborbit could achieve this goal via the Star Lab project. Photo Credit: Starfighters Aerospace

Your Flying Car is Here

The Transition flying car by Terrafugia. Credit: Terrafugia.


Here’s your flying car. And it’s just gotten approval from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to hit the road. Terrafugia’s Transition® Roadable Aircraft needed a special exemption for having special plexiglas windows and landing-capable tires for a road vehicle, and this is the first combined flying-driving vehicle to receive such special consideration from the Department of Transportation. It can be yours for a downpayment of $10,000, with the current total cost of $250,000.

Terrafugia — which is Latin for “escape from land” — says this new flying car combines the unique convenience of being able to fold its wings with the ability to drive on any surface road. You can stow the wings for road use and deploy them for flight at the airport.

See a video below of how it works.

It has a maximum speed of 100 knots (115 mph, 185 km/h), and a range of787 km (490 miles). The easy change-out from airplane to car or car to airplane can be done within the cockpit, allowing pilots to drive in case of inclement weather. You can get a full vehicle parachute, just in case, and it includes many crash safety features found in regular cars.

The Transition on the road. Credit: Terrafugia

No need for renting hanger space at the airport – just park it in your garage. When using it as a car, it is 2 meters (80 inches) tall, 2.3 meters (90 inches) wide and 6 meters (18 feet nine inches) long.
When flying, the Transition is 2 meters tall (78 inches) and 6 meters (19 feet 9 inches) long, with a wingspan of 8 meters (26 feet 6 inches.)

And no need to check your bags. An on-board cargo compartment holds your carry-on luggage and includes enough room for golf clubs.

Find out more at the Terrafugia website.

Stealth Unmanned Combat Vehicle Makes First Flight

The Boeing Phantom Ray unmanned airborne system (UAS) on its first flight. Credit: Boeing.


Looking like something straight from a 1950’s science fiction magazine, the stealthy Phantom Ray unmanned airborne system (UAS) successfully completed its first flight on April 27, 2011 at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The 17-minute flight took place following a series of high-speed taxi tests in March that validated ground guidance, navigation and control and verified mission planning, pilot interface and operational procedures. The Phantom Ray is a demonstrator aircraft, about the size of a fighter jet, developed to test operations such as air surveillance, ground attack and autonomous aerial refueling missions. During the test flight, the Phantom Ray flew to 2,290 meters (7,500 feet) and reached a speed of 178 knots.

The Phantom Ray on the runway preparing for its first flight. Credit: Boeing.

“This day has been two-and-a-half years in the making,” said Darryl Davis, president, Boeing Phantom Works. “It’s the beginning of providing our customers with a test bed to develop future unmanned systems technology, and a testament to the capabilities resident within Boeing. Just as follow-on tests will expand Phantom Ray’s flight envelope, they also will help Boeing expand its presence in the unmanned systems market.”

The flight demonstrated Phantom Ray’s basic airworthiness, and Boeing engineers are planning additional flights in the next few weeks. Other potential uses for the vehicle include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and suppression of enemy air defenses.

“The first flight moves us farther into the next phase of unmanned aircraft,” said Craig Brown, Phantom Ray program manager for Boeing. “Autonomous, fighter-sized unmanned aircraft are real, and the UAS bar has been raised. Now I’m eager to see how high that bar will go.”

Source: Boeing

Solar-Powered Airplane Makes Maiden Voyage

Solar Impulse durings its maiden voyage. Credit: Solar Impulse.

A solar powered airplane that one day will attempt an around the world non-stop flight took its maiden voyage yesterday in Switzerland. Solar Impulse flew for 87 minutes and climbed to 1,200 meters. “This first flight was for me a very intense moment!” exclaimed test pilot Markus Scherdel immediately after the flight. “The HB-SIA behaved just as the flight simulator told us! Despite its immense size and feather weight, the aircraft’s controllability matches our expectations!”

“We reached all objectives, especially the safe landing, which was our main purpose,” said Claude Nicollier, a former astronaut who is one of the leaders of the project.

The plane has a 61 meter wingspan, and the wings are covered with 12,000 state-of-the-art photovoltaic solar cells that power the plane. Using so-called intelligent light materials and new energy storage, the plane will be able to fly both night and day, completely on solar power. Solar impulse weights 1,600 kg and can fly at speeds up to 70 kmh at a maximum altitude of 8,500 m (27 900 ft)

“We .still have a long way to go until the night flights and an even longer way before flying round the world, but today, thanks to the extraordinary work of an entire team, an essential step towards achieving our vision has been taken,” said Solar Impulse Chairman and initiator Bertrand Piccard. “Our future depends on our ability to convert rapidly to the use of renewable energies. Solar Impulse is intended to demonstrate what can be done already today by using these energies and applying new technologies that can save natural resources.”

For more information on Solar Impulse.

NASA’s Version of Star Trek Replicator Ready for On Orbit Test

The Star Trek replicator. Credit: Computer Weekly

It’s not quite like requesting “Tea, Earl Grey, hot” and having a steaming drink appear, but almost. The Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication, developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center, is an engineer’s version of the science fiction replicator on Star Trek. “You start with a drawing of the part you want to build, you push a button, and out comes the part,” said Karen Taminger, the technology lead for NASA’s Fundamental Aeronautics Program.

Electron beam freeform fabrication process. Image credit: NASA
Electron beam freeform fabrication process. Image credit: NASA

Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication or EBF3150 creates parts for airplanes — not food and drink — and uses an environmentally-friendly construction process to manufacture layered metal objects. This technique could revolutionize the aviation industry and may have applications for the future spacecraft and the medical community as well. It can be used to make small, detailed parts or large structural pieces of airplanes.

EBF3150 works in a vacuum chamber, where an electron beam is focused on a constantly feeding source of metal, which is melted and then applied layer by layer on top of a rotating surface until the part is complete. A detailed 3-dimensional cross-sectional drawing of the part is fed into the device’s computer, providing information of how the the part should be built from the inside out. This guides the electron beam and and the inflow of metal to produce the object, building it up layer by layer.

Commercial applications for EBF3150 are already known and its potential already tested, Taminger said, noting it’s possible that, within a few years, some aircraft will be flying with parts made by this process.

The metals used must be compatible with the electron beam so that it can be heated by the stream of energy and briefly turned into liquid form. Aluminum is an ideal material to be used, but other metals can be used as well. In fact, the EBF3150 can handle two different sources of the feed stock metal at the same time, either by mixing them together into a unique alloy or embedding one material inside another, such as inserting a strand of fiber optic glass inside an aluminum part, enabling the placement of sensors in areas that were impossible before, Taminger said.

 structural metal part fabricated from EBF3. Image credit: NASA
structural metal part fabricated from EBF3. Image credit: NASA

While the EBF3 equipment tested on the ground is fairly large and heavy, a smaller version was created and successfully test flown on a NASA jet that is used to provide researchers with brief periods of weightlessness. The next step is to fly a demonstration of the hardware on the International Space Station, Taminger said.

Future lunar base crews could use EBF3 to manufacture spare parts as needed, rather than rely on a supply of parts launched from Earth. Astronauts might be able to mine feed stock from the lunar soil, or even recycle used landing craft stages by melting them.

But the immediate and greatest potential for the process is in the aviation industry where major structural segments of an airliner, or casings for a jet engine, could be manufactured for about $1,000 per pound less than conventional means, Taminger said.

The device is environmentally friendly because its unique manufacturing technique cuts down on the amount of waste. Normally an aircraft builder might start with a 6,000-pound block of titanium and machine it down to a 300-pound part, leaving 5,700 pounds of material that needs to be recycled and using several thousand gallons of cutting fluid used in the process.

“With EBF3 you can build up the same part using only 350 pounds of titanium and machine away just 50 pounds to get the part into its final configuration,” Taminger said. “And the EBF3 process uses much less electricity to create the same part.”

While initial parts for the aviation industry will be simple shapes, replacing parts already designed, future parts designed from scratch with the EBF3150 process in mind could lead to improvements in jet engine efficiency, fuel burn rate and component lifetime.

“There’s a lot of power in being able to build up your part layer by layer because you can get internal cavities and complexities that are not possible with machining from a solid block of material,” Taminger said.

For more information, watch Karen Taminger’s presentation on the EBF3150.

Source: NASA

Controversial NASA Aviation Report Released


NASA released the results on Dec. 31 from an $11.3 million federal air safety study. The agency previously withheld the report, and came under fire from Congress and news organizations for doing so. Earlier reports said NASA was concerned the data in the report would upset travelers and hurt airline profits. But today NASA administrator Mike Griffin and the head of NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance Bryan O’Connor said the release of the report was delayed to protect both pilot confidentiality and classified commercial aviation information.

“We came across instances in looking at the raw data where information was contained that could have compromised one of those two things,” said Administrator Griffin. “We determined that an independent review of that data was necessary in order to prevent such compromise.”

A panel led by O’Connor reviewed the 16,000 page report and data such as pilots’ names and other confidential information was redacted.

Also, Griffin said there are questions as to the validity of the data in the report, which has not been peer-reviewed.

“We consider the study was not properly organized and not properly reviewed, and that makes the results very difficult to interpret and to use,” he said. The study was conducted by the Battelle Memorial Institute for NASA.

An independent review of the data will be done in the future by the National Academy of Sciences.

Griffin said the original press release highlighting the refusal to release the data used “inappropriate language” to explain the rationale for not releasing the report.

NASA’s survey, the National Aviation Operations Monitoring System (NAOMS), interviewed about 8,000 pilots per year from 2001 until the end of 2004. The program was terminated before moving on to interview flight attendants and air traffic controllers, as originally proposed.

Approximately one million dollars a year was put into this study. Griffin said it is a small fraction of NASA’s overall work, and in retrospect, the study did not receive the attention that it should have.

The report can be found on NASA’s website. Its length makes it difficult to wade through the data. Additionally, some portions of the report that have not yet been edited for confidential information have been left out. NASA will release the remainder of the report as soon as possible.

The original plan for the survey never called for NASA to interpret and analyze the data. The study’s purpose was to develop new methodologies for collecting aviation safety data, and then the data would be transitioned to the aviation safety community.

“NASA conducts research, and this was one element of such research,” said Griffin. “NASA extended the research, which was originally to be concluded in 2004 in order to properly fund the transition of the data and its review. We’ve gone the extra mile with this data and we’ve gone well beyond our original intentions, which is why we’ve brought it to an end.”

It remains uncertain whether any data from the report will ever be used by the aviation safety community. Griffin said it was his understanding that the FAA has “simply moved on from NAOMS,� and that the FAA has over 150 different programs to provide survey data from individuals involved in all areas of air flight.

While NASA didn’t analyze the data, Griffin offered his opinion of what the report surmises: “What the flying public should understand is that they have approximately the same risk of dying from a lightning strike as they do dying from an air transport accident in the United States, which means to say that this is one of the safest forms of travel that human beings have ever invented, and that no one should think otherwise.”

In testimony to Congress earlier this year, Griffin characterized the data in the report as not as valid as he would prefer to have for a NASA report. Griffin said that he still feels that way, and that his concern is that this research work was not properly peer reviewed and the data that was extracted from the survey was not properly vailidated at its conclusion.

The survey purportedly unearthed approximately four times as many engine failures than the FAA has documentation for. “It calls into question the reporting mechanisms rather than the underlying rate of engine failures, which we believe we understand,� Griffin said, adding there are other inconsistencies, as well. “Those kinds of inconsistencies, when we looked at the data, gave us pause for thought, and still do.�

“The value of this will need to be determined by the larger aviation community, which I remind you, does not reside within NASA,” Griffin continued. “All that we at NASA have said is that this survey was not peer reviewed and the data was not validated at its conclusion. It’s up to others whether or not they believe this research has value.”

Griffin had promised to release the report before the end of 2007, and he did so without compromising confidential information that, by law, NASA is prohibited from releasing.

Griffin said this survey doesn’t cast any doubt in his mind about the safety of aviation in the United States. “I did not, having looked at a snapshot of the data, see anything that the flying public would care about or ought to care about,” he said. “But it’s not for me to prescribe what others may care about. We were asked to release the data and we did that.”

The report can be found on the NASA website.

Original News Source: NASA News Audio