FAA's Tuttle glides toward future

When Dave Tuttle program director for Flight 2000 at the Federal Aviation Administration soared over the mountains in his glider 30 years ago little did he know that someday he would lead an effort to get a revolutionary FAA program off the ground.

The Flight 2000 program scheduled to take place in Alaska Hawaii and Oakland Calif. in about three years will demonstrate how the concept of "free flight" will work. Free flight will allow pilots to choose the best flight path altitude and speed to suit particular flying conditions using a combination of on-board computers satellite navigation systems and air ground and airborne communications systems.

Testing New Capabilities

Flight 2000 will give the FAA a chance to test the technology and concepts associated with free flight in a real-world situation.

"This is an opportunity to bring situational awareness into the cockpit far in excess of anything we've had before " Tuttle said. "When I say `situational awareness ' I mean knowing precisely where the aircraft is where terrain is where other traffic is and where the weather is relative to your own position. That's a capability we didn't have 10 or 15 years ago."

The biggest challenge with Flight 2000 will be to integrate the various pieces of the program so they all work together as part of an integrated system. "The certification and installation of those avionics in 2 000 airplanes in my view is the tall pole in the tent " Tuttle said.

One of Tuttle's major goals is to accelerate the speed at which the rest of the country supports free flight. He wants avionics manufacturers to jump start production lines so the costs associated with equipping planes with new technology are not prohibitive in the future. He said this is important so that "the benefits are understood and attractive the cost is relatively low and we get rapid [deployment] when we implement this in the rest of the country." The FAA could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year for every year it shortens the transition period he said.

For Tuttle a career in aviation seemed like a natural extension of his life's interests. He started out flying gliders but rapidly moved on to power airplanes earning his pilot's license in 1969.

He started his government career in the Navy where he ran the air traffic control program for three years starting in 1975. "As far as I was concerned it was like being paid for your hobby " he said.

Gaining Experience

Tuttle made the move to the FAA in 1983 serving as manager of the requirements identification and analysis branch in the agency's System Engineering Service. He went on to serve in a number of positions there most recently as program director of National Airspace System (NAS) Operations for the Airways Facilities Service.

Tuttle even managed to squeeze in a sabbatical in 1989 to attend the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington DC. "Clearly if you're in air traffic control and [navigational aids] this is Mecca " he said of his work at the FAA.

Tuttle said his wide range of experience as a pilot and with the FAA prepared him well for his current job.

A Cross-Disciplined Background

"When I was asked to come over here for this job I think their perspective was that I had a cross-disciplined background - the operational experience as a pilot the NAS operations experience plus the [research and development] background and certification and regulatory exposure " he said. "That was really required for Flight 2000. It's not really a technology but an operational demonstration that has air traffic and airborne implications. Procedures and regulations are a bigger part of it than technology."

Tuttle still loves to fly. There is no better way to beat the beach traffic heading to Ocean City N.J. than to hop in the plane and fly yourself he said.

"It's a view of the world that you can't get any other way " Tuttle said. "A glider is a lot like sailing. It's you and Mother Nature. Mother Nature is saying `you're going to come down ' and you're saying `I want to take advantage of whatever thermal updrafts I can get to stay up as long as possible.' It's very quiet and serene."

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