Harris helps controllers see weather at WARP speed

The Federal Aviation Administration last week awarded Harris Corp. a $72.5 million contract to provide air traffic controllers with access to more accurate and timely weather information in the en route environment.

The Weather and Radar Processor (WARP) will be installed at 24 locations where controllers manage aircraft in the broad expanse of airspace between the terminal facilities at either end of a flight.

When WARP is installed fully in September 1999, controllers for the first time will have an integrated view of data coming from multiple weather sensors, said Benn Deans, acting leader of the FAA's weather processors team. Additionally, the new system will give controllers a direct patch to Next-Generation Radar (Nexrad) data.

The Big Picture

The integrated system will give controllers a better view of "the big picture" in the en route environment, Deans said. "That's going to reduce accidents and air traffic delays," he said.

Currently, controllers rely on an aging long-range surveillance radar system to track weather across their airspace. This monochrome system scans an area for disturbances with a single beam at a single level of the atmosphere. The FAA also buys Nexrad satellite data from a dissemination service provider and receives information from the National Weather Service - all of which meteorologists at the centers pull together for the controllers.

WARP, on the other hand, will integrate all this information on a single system, with controllers switching between multiple windows much like a personal computer user might bounce between different applications in Microsoft Windows, Deans said.

Meteorologists also will be able to overlay or fuse information from different sources into weather forecasts, said a spokesman for Harris Corp. in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Controllers will benefit from having Nexrad information sent directly to their stations, Deans said. Unlike the current radar system, Nexrad can display weath-er at different elevations - an important capability in the en route environment where air traffic is layered - and it can depict a wide range of intensity in weather systems via its full-color system, the FAA said.

New Workstation

WARP will be part of the Display System Replacement, the new controller workstation being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp. that includes color radar displays that Nexrad requires. As part of the system, the FAA plans to give controllers a view of large amounts of airspace by pulling together mosaics of multiple Nexrad images, Deans said. The satellite data will be available in five to six minutes, rather than the 16 to 26 minutes through the service provider. Deans said a March 1995 FAA study indicates that the direct link will provide a 9-to-1 cost-benefit advantage compared with the existing system.

More important, however, the FAA has been concerned about improving the quality of weather information provided to its controllers, Deans said. "We had to have the most up-to-date and accurate weather in the en route environment," he said.

Harris developed the original weather processor under the Meteorologist Weather Processor contract awarded in 1989. Harris has provided weather services to the Defense Department and civilian agencies as part of numerous programs, the company spokesman said.

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