Cleared for Takeoff
A checkered flag to signal pilots, an umbrella to block the sun, and a wheelbarrow for carting gear on and off the airfield. Those were the tools of the trade when Archie League went to work as the nation’s first air traffic controller in 1929 at Lambert Field in St. Louis. It was a modest start toward a vital goal: making air travel safe, fast, and efficient.
Eighty-three years later, nearly 134 million takeoffs and landings occur in the United States each year, carrying nearly 750 million passengers more than 7 billion miles. And all with a transportation safety record that is second to none.
Archie League’s pioneering spirit and commitment to safety is alive and well in today’s air traffic control arena. It’s a mission, a spirit and a vision Lockheed Martin has been proud to support for 55 years. More than 75 percent of flights in America and virtually all flights over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are controlled using Lockheed Martin technology. Lockheed Martin is the leader in general aviation air traffic control. Worldwide, Lockheed Martin-built systems manage more than 60 percent of global air traffic. And work underway today aims at keeping Lockheed Martin at the forefront of air traffic control as next-generation air safety systems are deployed around the world.
Civil aviation and air traffic control technology advanced rapidly during the 1930s and 1940s. Radios quickly replaced flags at air traffic control towers around the country. The Commerce Department called for the creation of three air traffic control centers in Newark, Cleveland, and Chicago, and in 1938, Congress created the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), the forerunner of today’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to regulate the airline industry.
En Route and Terminal
It was clear by the late 1950s that air travel was the transportation of the future, and the FAA realized that the unmatched speed and calculating powers of computers, the technology of the future, would be needed to keep industry growth on course, literally. More than 60 million people were flying each year.
To lead the computerization of the air traffic control system for flights en route between airports, the government turned to Lockheed Martin heritage company IBM Federal Systems – today part of Lockheed Martin’s Information Systems and Global Solutions division. In 1957, the division installed an IBM 650 mainframe computer at the FAA’s Indianapolis control center. That initial foray into the digital world rapidly led to the development of what became the nation’s computerized En Route traffic control system, managing planes traveling above 10,000 feet between airports. The first such En Route computer system designed and built by IBM was installed in Jacksonville, Florida. By 1959, five air traffic control centers were equipped with IBM computers to track flight information. The system was rolled out to other centers throughout the 1960s.
“The system changed air traffic management,” said Don Zarefoss, a member of the team that built the first En Route system. “It allowed us to automate many of the manual tasks the controllers did.” He compared it to “moving from an office environment that was paper-driven to one that is PC-based.”
Sperry Univac, another Lockheed Martin heritage company, in1958 provided the FAA with a Univac file computer to speed the processing of flight information, and developed the Automated Radar Terminal System (ARTS) at roughly the same time IBM Federal Systems was developing the En Route system. ARTS was initially installed in FAA facilities in Atlanta and then in New York. Alongside the flight blips on the controllers’ radar screen, the system displayed the flight’s identity, speed, and altitude, information that controllers had previously received verbally from pilots. Tweaks to the initial system led to the rollout of ARTS III, an enhanced version that was installed in all terminal air traffic control centers by 1974.
IT Drives Rapid Change
Beginning in the mid-1980s, the FAA undertook a visionary modernization program. In 1985, IBM began installing the Host Computer System. Host computers provided more than five times the capacity of the previous generation of computer processors, and were ten times faster and more reliable and easier to maintain. Martin Marietta also participated in overhauling and integrating the air traffic control system during this period. Beginning in 1983 the company worked with the FAA to manage and integrate new and upgraded systems to ensure they worked as a unified entity.
A notable example of a Lockheed Martin technology successfully developed in the early 1990s was the Display System Replacement project, which replaced 30-year-old equipment with state-of-the- art displays and software for air traffic controllers. Others include the User Resource Evaluation Tool, which was operational in seven traffic control sites by 2002, providing conflict detection systems between aircraft and enhancing electronic flight data available to controllers. By the mid-2000s, Lockheed Martin had also implemented the Advanced Technology Oceanic Procedures with centers in New York, Anchorage, and Oakland, covering the Atlantic and Pacific oceanic airspaces.
The company has built similar systems for the UK, Kazakhstan, Albania and Korea, delivering safer, more efficient air traffic systems to transportation hubs around the world.
With air travel set for even more accelerated growth in the future, the FAA is now leading an effort called NextGen to create the air traffic infrastructure of tomorrow. A key part of NextGen is the Lockheed Martin-built En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) system, which uses highly accurate satellite technology to make routes more efficient, save fuel and reduce emissions. ERAM is currently running 24/7 at air traffic control centers in Seattle and Salt Lake City, and is slated for deployment to twenty centers nationwide.
While these technologies will take many forms, they all share a common goal: to move the air traffic control system away from the original model of a “highway in the sky” toward more flexibility and freedom in commercial aviation. NextGen will maintain the industry’s unmatched safety record while making flying faster, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly than ever.
Sources and Additional Reading
• Harwood, Raise Heaven and Earth
- More than 75 percent of flights in America and virtually all flights over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are controlled using Lockheed Martin technology.
- For the computerization of the air traffic control system for flights en route between airports, the government turned to Lockheed Martin heritage company IBM Federal Systems.
- En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) represents the latest phase in the continual evolution of the nation’s air traffic control system. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor.