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Software and Systems Branch


Cliff Johnson (A)

(609) 485-6181

Administrative Contact

Marguerite Thompson

(609) 485-4476

Mission Statement

Develop scientific solutions to current and future air transportation challenges by conducting applied research and development in collaboration with industry, academia, and government.


Extend the Wright brother's legacy of research and development to ensure maximal safety, efficiency, and environmental stewardship for the air transportation system.


  • Agility – Expeditiously conduct and apply research to provide solutions to safety, efficiency, and environmental challenges.
  • Strategy – Develop and pursue a strategic research vision to identify and resolve issues before they emerge.
  • Leadership – Lead the world in applied research and development for air transportation system evolution.
  • Learning – Invest in employee growth and future generations of researchers and practitioners.
  • Integrity and Stewardship – Act as stewards for scientific integrity and rigor for the National Airspace System.

About the Branch

The Software and Systems Branch conducts aviation research in the following areas: flight control and mechanical systems, rotorcraft systems, digital system safety, system safety management, and terminal area safety. This research supports aircraft safety technology development, continued enhancement of aircraft certification procedures and airworthiness standards, inspection and maintenance processes, as well as safety oversight to ensure maximum safety, efficiency, and environmental stewardship for the air transportation system.

Flight Control and Mechanical Systems Research

The flight control and mechanical systems research program works to reduce general aviation accidents due to the loss of control and make flying safer by improving automated flight control systems and cockpit displays in general aviation aircraft.

Pilots flying small aircraft sometimes find themselves in unusual situations, for example, making turns that are too tight or climbs that are too steep causing aircraft loss of control, pilot disorientation, or aircraft stalls. In order to keep the plane straight and level, pilots must locate and correctly interpret information on the cockpit display that indicates speed, altitude, heading, pitch, and roll.

The FAA is looking to make cockpit displays more user-friendly and safer for the pilot. For example, in the future, the pilot may be able to program a destination into the aircraft flight control system. In addition, prompts on the display screen would tell the pilot what actions to take. In these scenarios, the pilot is still in charge of the controls and flying the plane in the right direction, however, the airplane becomes much simpler and safer to fly.

Evaluating new displays and controls usually requires flight testing. Researchers at the Technical Center are using flight simulators as well as flight tests that allow them to adjust flight controls and cockpit displays to better understand how new technologies will impact pilots. By testing new cockpit instrumentation, the FAA is better able to protect pilots from making dangerous mistakes, preventing general aviation accidents and saving lives.

Rotorcraft Systems Research

The rotorcraft systems research program works to identify and change safety procedures to help aircraft avoid wire strikes. Helicopter pilots complete many of their flights at low altitudes where the sky is filled with wires including power lines and guy wires on towers.

Farm-based aircraft doing crop dusting or small planes flying at low heights also face this almost invisible danger. Each year pilots report wire strikes and nearly one third of these involve a death.

Working with academia, FAA researchers plan to develop wire strike avoidance sensors, wire cutting devices and pilot warning systems that may be tested on helicopters.

The FAA will use the data from these tests to evaluate the effectiveness of avoidance technologies and to establish common-sense policies for the installation of this safety improving equipment.

The FAA understands the importance of both education and training. Procedures may be developed for pilots to actively scan for wires and support structures. An FAA video on wire strike avoidance is available to pilots.

And the FAA regularly issues safety alerts and tips to better prepare pilots to fly in areas where wires present a flight risk or danger.

Digital System Safety Research

The digital system safety research program works to analyze airworthiness and certification aspects of highly integrated, complex digital aircraft systems. The advancement of new technologies, such as automated systems using artificial intelligence and machine learning, is changing avionics and the aviation industry. Future research in this area will investigate the impact of these technologies on pilot roles and responsibilities and flight deck systems. The resulting data will be used to develop and update regulations, guidance material, and human factors guidelines.

System Safety Management

The System Safety Management (SSM) program works to improve safety through developing safety data collection methods, advanced safety data and risk analysis techniques, and prototypes of risk-based decision-making capabilities to identify and analyze emerging safety issues in a cooperative nature with the aviation stakeholders. The program provides an ability to analyze trends across the aviation community that is much more effective than monitoring individual certificated entities, (e.g., air operators and air traffic facilities).

The program research outputs include methodologies, case studies, and guidance material that provide the capabilities of systematically assessing potential safety risks and applying proactive solutions to reduce aviation accidents and incidents.

Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (known as ASIAS) is an example of the work done in this area. This initiative is designed to increase system safety through a FAA and industry collaborative use of data and other safety information. This enables both FAA and industry to identify system-level vulnerabilities by evaluating and developing aggregate level data and metrics, determine indicators of performance (safety metrics) and processes to reliably identify potential risk, and identify and assess risks associated with anticipated changes in procedures or technologies.

Terminal Area Safety

The Terminal Area Safety (TAS) program improves the safety of operations at or near an airport. Research projects in the TAS program focus on developing training solutions and identifying effective technologies to mitigate the key causes of fatal accidents in the terminal area, such as the loss of control, runway excursions, and runway overruns. The program research outputs include guidance material and recommendations to improve safety.

Stable approach criteria and helicopter operational safety improvements are two examples of work done in this area.

The approach and landing are the most common phases of flight for aviation accidents, accounting annually for approximately 65 percent of all accidents. A Flight Safety Foundation study of 16 years of runway excursions determined that 83 percent could have been avoided with a decision to go around. Following the 1999 American 1440 accident in Little Rock accident, the NTSB recommended that FAA define detailed parameters for a stabilized approach and develop detailed criteria indicating when a missed approach should be performed. The purpose of this research is to study the feasibility of defining simplified and universal go-around criteria, and to design and conduct a human-in-the-loop flight simulation experiment to evaluate the proposed go-around criteria for when a missed approach should be performed.

Recent technological developments in head-mounted Enhanced Vision Systems/Synthetic Vision Systems (EVS/SVS) allow for new low-visibility operational concepts in helicopter flight operations. Helicopter point in space instrument procedure approach minimums have reached their limits with the current suite of visual aids available to pilots (displays, lighting, and marking); lower visibility minimums require improved visual cues. To address this, research is being conducted to examine how to achieve adequate visual cues from these systems by examining the latest EVS/SVS technologies and assessing the safety and viability of operational concepts involving these technologies through flight tests and simulation activities. These efforts include several industry partnerships with helicopter original equipment manufacturers, operators, and device manufacturers within the helicopter community.

Technical publications on the above areas are available to the U.S. public through the National Technical Information Services (NTIS), Springfield, Virginia 22161 or the Federal Aviation Administration William J. Hughes Technical Center.

Staff Members

Software and Electronics Staff
Staff Member Phone Number
Alanna Randazzo, Manager (609) 485-5298
Dan Dellmyer (609) 485-5185
Srini Mandalapu (609) 485-8172
Robert McGuire (609) 485-4494
Manny Rios (609) 485-4891
Traci Stadmueller (609) 485-4768
System Safety Staff
Staff Member Phone Number
Robert Ellis, Manager (609) 485-6520
Angela Campbell (609) 485-7715
Tony Gurcsik (609) 485-5622
Charles Johnson (609) 485-6181
Vasudeva Kolli (609) 485-8443
Huasheng Li (609) 485-8161
Somil Shah (609) 485-6310
Stephanie Stead (609) 485-4962
Cristina Tan (609) 485-8168
Tom Tessitore (609) 485-4166
Michael Vu (609) 485-8143

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