Automation and Air Traffic Control
The advent of computer technology offered a way to transform the capabilities of air traffic control. Following the 1961 Project Beacon report, FAA began planning a system that would use data from both ground radar and from airborne radar beacons.
In 1967, IBM delivered a prototype computer (above) to the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center. The software written for the ensuing NAS En Route Stage A project contained more instructions than any previous computer program.
The first phase of the NAS En Route Stage A undertaking provided automatic distribution of flight-plan data through the Computer Update Equipment (CUE) shown at right. By February 1973, all the en route centers in the contiguous United States had this capability.
The second and more complex phase of NAS Stage A involved radar data processing. This phase provided an aircraft's identity, altitude, and other data directly to controllers, as shown at left, through alphanumeric codes on their radar scopes.
Meanwhile, FAA was also developing a system that would give similar support to controllers in airport terminal areas.
The production model of this terminal area equipment, designated ARTS III, is shown at left. ARTS III was operational at 61 of the Nation's busiest airports by August 15, 1975. Eleven days later, FAA completed implementation of the second phase of NAS En Route Stage A at all its en route centers.
The success of these automation programs placed the U.S. airspace system on the leading edge of technology. Many upgrades lay ahead as FAA added safety features and worked to stay abreast of expanding traffic volume. (See FAA Today for images of the current airspace system.