Accelerating advanced air mobility with NASA: An update on X3 and X4 simulation series

Developing and deploying tools that support advanced air mobility (AAM) is a key focus at Airbus UTM. While we’re working specifically to solve the industry’s air traffic infrastructure needs, we’re always eager to partner with other organizations to test and develop new concepts to make AAM a near-term reality.

In February 2020, Airbus UTM partnered with Metron Aviation to participate in NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) National Campaign (NC), created to promote public confidence and acceptance of emerging aviation markets. Metron Aviation supports the FAA and other governmental agencies and is a pioneer in Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) concept development and global ATFM system implementation and integration. For the next decade, the NC will focus on research, flight demonstrations and establishing partnerships to safely enable the integration of AAM vehicles and systems into our current and future skies. Their goals align directly with Airbus UTM’s mission to enable digital air traffic services to ensure a safe, fair and efficient airspace, and our vision for a safe, integrated, accessible airspace supporting a wide range of new aircraft and operations.

A key component of NASA’s NC is the Airspace Annex, which provides a virtual environment for third-party airspace service providers—such as Airbus UTM—to validate technology capabilities, with the ultimate goal of accelerating the deployment of software services to support AAM. The NC provides a great opportunity to advance verification and validation processes of AAM concepts and processes, such as those provided by Airbus UTM’s simulation platform.

In 2020, the Airspace Annex centered around a series of simulations—called X3—that provided an opportunity to integrate and test our technology through simulations with NASA’s X3 system. These simulations allowed NASA engineers to evaluate a provider’s current capabilities, its ability to communicate with other industry partners, to adapt to different flight scenarios and to solicit feedback for NASA’s software architecture.

The Metron Aviation - Airbus UTM team was selected by NASA to participate in X3. In preparation, we developed and deployed a Provider of UAM Services (PSU), as well as a simulation engine or ‘target generator’ to simulate AAM vehicle operations. X3 simulations began last August and concluded in December 2020, and covered three specific scenarios:

  • Nominal Operations: The first scenario consisted of completing a predetermined route (including take-off and landing), and monitoring to confirm that the operation was conforming with its stated plan, and alerting the system if it was out of conformance.
  • Airborne Reroute: In the second scenario, airspace constraints were imposed on the flight path. This required us to reroute operations around the constraints, with real time updates to the operation routing while the aircraft was airborne
  • Contingency Operations: This scenario included one simulation of a baulked landing and go-around, and a second simulation of an emergency landing.

In addition to four separate X3 simulation tests, our team completed additional tests to confirm connectivity to NASA’s X3 systems, and to verify PSU and target generator functionality. Of the 11 participating teams, the Metron Aviation - Airbus UTM team was one of only two to complete all scenario tests with NASA. Our successful navigation of these simulations allowed us to refine, test and validate AAM services consistent with pending global standards and provided NASA with meaningful insight to prepare for the next National Campaign simulations and flight test program.

In July 2021, NASA announced that the Metron Aviation - Airbus UTM team was one of 7 partners to have been selected to participate in the next round of NC airspace simulations—called X4—to continue work towards integrating air taxis, cargo delivery aircraft and other new air vehicle concepts into the national airspace system.

Our successful completion of X3 and selection for X4 is a great reminder of the power of collaboration. In what often feels like a race to finish first, we’re thrilled that our technology and capabilities will contribute to NASA’s NC, which will help inform FAA policy and procedures, as well as work to improve public perception and acceptance of AAM. Together, we can move the needle forward in a meaningful way to build an efficient, safe and reliable airspace of the future.

- Tony Evans