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FlightHorizon was recently selected and used to provide airspace management, safety, detailed flight logging, and real-time flight formation management for the “NASA-DLR Multidisciplinary Airborne Experiment” (ND-MAX) research flights headed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in partnership with the German Aerospace Agency (DLR). The flights were conducted from Ramstein Airbase in Germany and involved detailed airborne fuel emissions collection and analysis. FlightHorizon allowed the researchers to track and maintain close flight formation to ensure safety and to produce detailed flight logs to analyze exact locations and distances between the aircraft while chemical sampling was taking place.

FlightHorizon for ND-MAX Flight Research

Researchers from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center used FlightHorizon for airspace management, safety, detailed flight logging, and on-board real-time air formation management for the ND-MAX flights, which started on January 16th, 2018. FlightHorizon software uses data from standard aviation transponders and radar, when available, to provide a 2D map-based view and 3D synthetic cockpit view of national airspace and full sensor fusion across aviation transponders, radars and online data feeds. The system is designed to help operators maintain flight safety, provide aircraft alerts and warnings, and provide specific commands to maintain well-clear distances, when necessary. The system also provides detailed airspace logging of all detected aircraft multiple times per second and full flights can be re-played in FlightHorizon from the logs. The system can also provide full binary logging of aircraft signals to allow for later detailed analysis. Read our Products and Services Overview for more information on FlightHorizon.

What is ND-MAX?

The NASA and DLR Multidisciplinary Airborne Experiment (ND-MAX) research project flew from Ramstein Airbase in southwest Germany using NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory aircraft.

A NASA engineer monitors data using FlightHorizon before flights of agency F-18 jets to measure the effects of sonic booms.
Credit: NASA/Bill White

NASA officially announced the program on January 4th explaining: “ND-MAX research objectives include examining the effects of alternative fuels and engine technology on aircraft emission and contrails, collecting aerosol and trace gas data for validating models and satellite-sensor measurements, and evaluating the performance of new instruments and inlets for potential use in future earth-science missions.” The DC-8 will meet with DLR’s Advanced Technology Aircraft (ATRA) Airbus A320. “Together the aircraft will complete a series of science formation flights over a three-week period. Jointly instrumented by DLR and NASA, the DC-8 will follow the ATRA at a safe distance carrying a large suite of cabin and wing-mounted ‘sniffing’ sensors to characterize trace gases, aerosols and ice clouds found in the exhaust plume. The ATRA will use two different standard jet fuels or a blend of jet fuel and renewable plant-based fuel,” according to the January 4th announcement. The A320 will be the “source” aircraft and the DC-8 follows carrying the sampling platform. This setup allows researchers to “fly where contrails form and persist, giving them plenty of opportunities to gather data using a much more extensive instrument payload than could be carried by two Falcon jets combined. In fact, the DC-8 will be carrying 14 experiment racks jammed with instruments – three times the instruments flown before on the smaller business-class jets” (1). One of the instruments that the DC-8 will be carrying is a computer equipped with FlightHorizon detect-and-avoid and airspace management system, which will track and provide location information to help the two aircraft maintain flight formation and provide flight logs for data review and comparison with collected emissions data. “This is one of the most extensive suite of aerosol and ice-particle instruments ever fielded by a NASA campaign,” said Bruce Anderson, NASA’s principal investigator for this round of testing in the ND-MAX research program, in a published statement. “Prior to the DC-8’s departure to Germany, the aircraft will complete several test flights from its base of operations at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center” in Palmdale, CA. “This is one of the most extensive suite of aerosol and ice-particle instruments ever fielded by a NASA campaign,” Anderson said. DLR, the German Airspace Center, posted a short video about the collaborative flight research with NASA: Read the full January 4, 2018 NASA Media Advisory

Continuing Airborne Emissions Environmental Research

This is not the first time the two organizations have teamed up for environmental research. ND-MAX is a continuation in a series of major research projects on the environmental effects of burning alternative fuels in jet engines.

The German Aerospace Center’s Airbus 320 sits “downfield” from a pair of NASA-operated sampling inlets that measure jet engine exhaust emissions.
Credits: NASA/Bruce Anderson

In 2015, NASA teamed up with the German Aerospace Center for the DLR Emissions and Climate Impacts of Alternative Aviation Fuels (ECLIF) experiments which sought to “evaluate the combustion performance, emission-reduction benefits, and contrail characteristics of alternative jet fuels.” ECLIF research flights involved “two standard jet fuels and four different alternative fuel/jet fuel blends of widely varying aromatic hydrocarbon and sulfur content were burned in the DLR Airbus A320 Advanced Technology Research Aircraft (ATRA) during extensive ground and cruise altitude emissions/contrail sampling tests.”
“The ATRA completed nine separate, 2.5-hour flights with an instrumented DLR Falcon 20 measuring particle and gas emissions and contrail ice characteristics. After each flight, the ATRA was parked in an engine run-up area and emissions were measured at the thrust settings encompassing those employed during flight; the tests required almost an hour of engine run time, but produced a much more extensive and statistically-reliable set of engine emission data than could be obtained in flight.   NASA researchers designed and installed an exhaust sampling system and provided detailed particle emission characterization measurements for the ground tests. NASA measurement results will be used to help interpret the airborne observations and validate a model to predict cruise emission from engine certification measurements.”
Read more about ECLIF:   Interested in getting FlightHorizon detect-and-avoid and airspace management for your flight project or program? Contact us to get started! Featured Image Credit: NASA/Eddie Winstead

About Vigilant Aerospace Systems

Vigilant Aerospace is the leading developer of detect-and-avoid and airspace management software for uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS or drones). The company’s product, FlightHorizon, is based on two NASA patents and uses data from multiple sources to display a real-time picture of the air traffic around a UAS and to provide automatic avoidance maneuvers to prevent collisions. The software is designed to meet industry technical standards, to provide automatic safety and to allow UAS to safely fly beyond the sight of the pilot. The software has won multiple industry awards and the company has had contracts and users at NASA, the FAA, the U.S. Department of Defense and with a variety of drone development programs. Visit our website at

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