November 22, 2009


By now many of you are aware of NextGen, the FAA's vague plan to change the world, courtesy of your tax dollars. The first big step in this plan is to convert the main computer system that has been in use (and running strong, sorta) since the 1960s (EDIT, I'm told the actual machines in use are only from the 80s...). Yes, it is out of date. But it works. The same cannot be said, as of November 2009, for the new computer system, ERAM.

ERAM is supposed to be deployed already, at least to most of the Centers. So far it's stuck at the first implementation in Salt Lake. We don't hear much about it in Boston, except that it is coming, and we need to get ready for it, and that it will solve all of our problems! The FAA sends controllers up a few at a time to watch a computer based lesson plan detailing the future features of ERAM. There is even a test at the end implying that the informative lecture should be committed to memory and we will be obligated to fully understand the concepts when the system goes online months and years down the road. Yet, all of the features are "subject to change" prior to Boston actually getting plugged in. I'll try to remember the differences while I'm working live traffic on our old HOST system 40+ hours a week.

ERAM is hitting a little closer to home in Seattle Center. They work directly with Salt Lake and have seen first hand the uncertainty that comes with testing such an important piece of safety equipment on live traffic, only to watch it not work. As it turns out, one of the controllers there has been writing a much better, more informative blog for years longer than I have even been a controller. I invite you to slew over to the newest adjacent sector and check out the FAA Follies. I try to avoid the politics whenever possible, but, when they cannot be avoided, the Follies is all over it.

Till next time....


PS. These spectator computer lessons are not going to be our only training on the new system, we'll get a few days in the simulators, but still.......


Anonymous said...

> "...the main computer system that has been in use (and running strong, sorta) since the 1960s..."

To be fair (and I'm no apologist for the FAA), the system you're using runs on Host, which was implemented in the '80s (we got it in Chicago in 1987 or '88). It replaced the 9020 mainframe computers, of which there were two at ZAU (and three or four other centers: ZNY, ZFW, ZTL, I believe, but not ZBW)--one for flight data processing, the other for radar processing. At the time I retired ('97) those 9020s were still in use.

The software used is largely based on what was implemented in the '70s ('72 or thereabouts at ZAU), and that was developed from the prototype (but quite different than) put online in ZJX in roughly 1969 or 1970.

I was there for all of that. What you're using doesn't date to the '60s except in concept.

By the way, read another excellent blogger (Don Brown, "Get The Flick") who last week discussed the 3,500 year old technology that's more important to aviation than our 70 year old radar technology.

ZJX, ORD, ZAU retired

Anon E. Moose said...

From a Pilot's point of view, the idea of relying solely on aircraft-provided GPS position information is scary. If my transponder flakes out, I become a primary target. If my ADS-B flakes out, I simply disappear to the controllers and to other aircraft receiving ABD-B in.

I haven't heard a good solution to how the ADS-B NextGen system handles willful or inadvertent non-broadcasting aircraft. Wouldn't they have to use radar anyway?

Anonymous said...

The current HOST system in use at all 20 ARTCC's is a 1997 IBM 9672 also known as a Generation 3 or simply G3. Typical load under full traffic is less them 15 percent CPU. The software has been evolved from the system developed back in the 70's that is true but has been continually enhanced over the years. Corporations evolve systems like windows 3.1, 95, 98, 2000, NT, XP, Vista and now 7. Only the FAA throws it all out and Opts for a rewrite on a system using a 1960's operating system UNIX and a dead computer language ADA.

deltamike172 said...

We're not getting rid of Radar quick yet, since ERAM supposedly is much better at using more overlapping radars than HOST is, according to the computer lesson :)