On July 1, 1958, the federal Airways Modernization Board established the National Aviation Facilities Experimental Center (NAFEC) near Atlantic City, N.J., on the site of the former Naval Air Station Atlantic City (an active Navy base during World War II and the Korean War). On May 29, 1980, the FAA changed the name of the center from NAFEC to the FAA Technical Center. On May 6, 1996, the FAA renamed the facility the William J. Hughes Technical Center, in honor of Ambassador William J. Hughes, a former member of Congress and long-time, ardent supporter of the Technical Center.
The Center has served as the core facility for modernizing the air traffic control system and for advancing programs to enhance aviation safety in all stages of flight, including the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), since 1958. Center engineers and technical personnel are responsible for implementing critical programs that focus on air traffic management, communications, navigation, airports and aircraft safety. Along with research and development project work, the Center provides 24-hour, daily operational support to the FAA field facilities all over the country. Center specialists diagnose problems and make software changes so that critical systems remain operational.
The Center houses laboratories, test and support facilities, Atlantic City International Airport and a non-commercial aircraft hangar in an area that covers more than 5,000 acres. Some unique laboratories include: air traffic control and simulation facilities, a human factors laboratory, a fleet of specially instrumented in-flight testing aircraft, the world's largest full-scale aviation fire test facility, a chemistry laboratory for analyzing the toxicity of materials involved in a fire, radar test laboratories, a structural panel test facility and the National Airport Pavement Test Facility.
Some early Technical Center achievements include: automation data processing center work to automate Air Traffic Control (1961); the first Wake Vortex Turbulence Test by helicopter (1963); the first operational testing of an Automated Enroute Air Traffic Control system (1966); introduction of the Visual Approach Slope Indicator to provide improved guidance to runways (1966); and the first Air Traffic Control Tower cab mockup to test controller work areas and do airport observations (1972). More recent Center achievements cover many programs that enhance safety and efficiency for the flying public including: Air Traffic Control Displays; Satellite Navigation; Tower Laboratory Simulations; Weather; Reduced Vertical Separation Minima; Human Factors; Aircraft Fire Safety; Engineered Material Arrestor System; Foreign Object Debris Detection; and the Traffic Flow Management System.