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Inside the Fence - Article
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Intercom - 11/98-6/05

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The Future is Now: The World of the ‘Airborne Internet’

By Pete Castellano

Image of Ralph Yost seated in front of networked miniature laptop computers

Editor’s Note: The purpose of this article is to introduce our readers to a new and exciting way to think about communications between aircraft, and between aircraft and those on the ground. Led by Ralph Yost, of the Tech Center’s Research & Technology Division , this effort demonstrates that the Technical Center remains on the leading edge of aviation and transportation.

Mobile connectivity is a growing technology in our society today. Its growth is fueled by the desire of people to remain connected to "the network" even while traveling. From wireless LANs at home and the office to wireless connectivity with cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs), people are utilizing new methods to extend the traditional network connectivity that originated with a wire to a computer.

The concept of basic network connectivity could be used to connect mobile vehicles, including automobiles, trucks, trains, ships, and even aircraft. Network connectivity could be obtained between vehicles and a ground network infrastructure.

The idea of an Airborne Internet began as a supporting technology for NASA's Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS). Program planners identified the need to establish robust communications between aircraft, and between aircraft and the ground. Based on this recognized need, Ralph Yost proposed the idea of networking aircraft, in the same way we network computers - and thus the Airborne Internet was born.

The utility of Airborne Internet has the potential to extend far beyond the SATS program; it could open up a whole new set of operating capabilities for aircraft. Airborne Internet has the potential to change the way aircraft receive and send data, or more appropriately, information.

Airborne Internet can provide an interconnected digital data network between aircraft, and between aircraft and the ground. It has the potential to change how aircraft are monitored and tracked by the air traffic control system, and how they exchange information with and about other aircraft. Critical information such as weather, turbulence, and landing conditions can be transferred, as well as the distance between aircraft. This information becomes even more critical for aircraft that are beyond the range of conventional surveillance radar. There would also be the capability to allow aircraft passengers to go ‘on-line’ to check their e-mail, pay bills, surf the web – you name it.

Look for more articles on this exciting topic in this and future issues. For more information about the Airborne Internet, check out www.AirborneInternet.com.



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