NASA's aeronautical research program is providing a technology base for tomorrow's safer, more efficient, more competitive aircraft.

Symbolic of NASA's trailblazing aeronautics program is an investigation of a futuristic "waverider" aircraft that would fly at 3,000 miles per hour, riding on its own shockwave as surfboards ride on ocean waves. In the photo, a Langley Research Center engineer is readying a waverider model for wind tunnel test.

In 1915, the Congress established the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as an independent agency of the federal government "to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution, and to direct and conduct research and experiments in aeronautics."

For 43 years, until it was absorbed by NASA, NACA was extraordinarily successful in carrying out the Congressional mandate, contributing a lengthy list of technological advances and innovations that helped thrust the U.S. aircraft and airline industries into positions of leadership in world aviation. Today, 80 years after NACA's creation, NASA's aeronautics program follows in NACA's grand tradition, providing a continuing flow of advanced technology over a very broad spectrum of aviation-related disciplines. This program represents an investment in the future of U.S. aircraft manufacturing capabilities and air transportation safety and efficiency, areas that rank among the leading influences on the national economy, security and public convenience.

The competitiveness of the aircraft industry is a matter of particular importance. Consensus puts the market for commercial jetliners over the next 20 years at more than one trillion dollars; if that potential is realized, it could mean worldwide production of airliners at an annual rate roughly double that of the record-setting years of the 1980s. But American plane builders have lost significant market share to foreign competitors in recent years and the competition continues to intensify.

What is needed to preserve American competitiveness - and the aircraft sales, jobs and tax revenues that go with it - is a continuing infusion of advanced technology. It is the government's role - in this instance NASA's - to invest in the higher risk, longer term technologies that otherwise might go undeveloped because the payoffs are too uncertain and too distant to justify corporate outlays. Finally, NASA must maintain a national research infrastructure for government and industry, including wind tunnels, simulators, computational facilities, and flight research platforms. This infrastructure demands continuing modernization.

NASA, therefore, is engaged in a broad aeronautical research and technology program that involves projected outlays of almost $5 billion over the fiscal years 1996-2000. That investment is expected to pay important dividends to the nation. It will help eliminate the $3.5 billion a year wasted due to airport delays; posture U.S. industry for leadership in the 21st century supersonic transport market estimated at $200 billion; and strengthen American industry's competitiveness in the trillion dollar subsonic market. NASA's aeronautics goals, as detailed in 1995 Congressional testimony, are to

* Develop high payoff technologies for a new generation of economic, environmentally acceptable U.S. subsonic aircraft and a safe, highly productive air transportation system;

* Build the technology base for an economically viable and environmentally friendly high speed civil transport;

* Explore technology options for new capabilities in high performance aircraft;

* Develop and demonstrate technologies for airbreathing hypersonic flight;

* Develop advanced concepts, physical understanding, and theoretical/ experimental/ computational tools to enable advanced aerospace systems; and

* Develop, maintain and operate critical national facilities for aeronautical research in support of industry and technology-developing government agencies.

NASA pursues these objectives through in-house research and through cooperative endeavors with academia, industry and other government agencies. NASA's principal research installations are Ames Research Center. Moffett Field, California; Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California; Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia; and Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio. Examples of their activities are described on the following pages.