Airman recognized for work in aviation
Cutline First Lt. Kyle Smith, 80th Flying Training Wing Euro NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training student, Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, was awarded the RAISE Award by the U.S. Department of Transporation and the Federal Aviation Administration March 7, 2014, in Washington D.C. for his work while attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during his master's degree program. The Raise Award, which stands for Recognizing Aviation and Aerospace Innovation in Science and Engineering, is awarded to high school and college students who think creatively and develop innovative solutions for today's aviation challenges. Smith is a 2011 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Mike Meares)
Posted 3/12/2014 Updated 3/12/2014
by Tech. Sgt. Mike Meares
82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
3/12/2014 - SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- High across the heartland of the U.S., perfect white contrails crisscross a cloudless blue sky as more than 7,000 commercial airliners ferry passengers to and from coast to coast and all points in between.
From gate to gate, passengers embark on their journeys with many working behind the scenes to keep them safe and on time. As the cost of doing business continues to climb, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration are continually working to find more efficient ways to move people and goods from point to point.
As the U.S. airspace gets crowded, and the introduction of the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, already in select airports, Airmen like 1st Lt. Kyle Smith, 80th Flying Training Wing, Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, have made contributions to help save time and money for airlines and their passengers.
For his graduate level work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Boston, to enhance the collision avoidance system during closely spaced parallel operations, he was awarded the RAISE Award. Each year, the DOT and FAA sponsor the Secretary's RAISE Award, which stands for Recognizing Aviation and Aerospace Innovation in Science and Engineering. The program encourages high school and college students to think creatively and develop innovative solutions to today's aviation challenges.
"I was blown away when they gave it to me," Smith said. "I looked at the winners from last year and they did great work. I know they received tons of applicants with great projects and innovations."
Smith, a native of Cross Point, Ind., felt he found his calling in aviation while on a trip to an air show in Gary, Ind., with his uncle. Seeing the airplanes, especially the military fighters, at the show gave the middle schooler visions of grandeur set to the Top Gun Anthem. Growing up watching Tom Cruise play "Maverick," a F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot, is the visions he had in his head when it came to military aviation.
"Sitting there and watching them really got me hooked in general on aviation," Smith said. "I didn't know what I wanted, whether military or commercial, but it piqued my interest."
He took to the skies as soon as he was of legal age to get his private license.
"I timed it out so I could solo just after my sixteenth birthday," he said. "I got my license and around the beginning of high school, I started looking to the military aviation for a career."
With his mind set on the Air Force, the only location for him to attend college was the U.S. Air Force Academy. He was resolute on flying as an Airman.
"The military lifestyle has always fit me," Smith said. "It also seemed very cool flying in general."
After graduation in 2011, he postponed attending the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program at Sheppard to attend MIT for his Master's Degree. While there, his thesis topic was to enhance collision avoidance on the Airborne Collision Avoidance System X, a next-generation system that will support new surveillance systems and air traffic control procedures at airports nationwide.
"I had pretty decent grades at the academy, so I had grad school on my mind as well," he said. "It was tough having the opportunity to go to grad school, but also knowing I had to put off pilot training for two years. Flying is my ultimate goal."
In the end, he decided to go to grad school because it was "way too good of an opportunity to pass up," he said. Working in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics attached to the Lincoln Laboratory at MIT, Smith decided to do his thesis work on the Airborne Collision and Avoidance System X logic, ACAS Xo.
"It was a pretty good match because they are already oriented in the direction my career was going," Smith said. "I got plugged in with this group and they let me feel out the different programs they were working on and get my hands dirty on a few different things."
With the ACAS X already in development, Smith recognized the current Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System's, or TCAS, current design limits support for certain closely spaced parallel runway operations. If aircraft attempt to land of takeoff on parallel runways, TCAS will alert the pilots, leading them to often respond to a resolution advisory and change course.
"You want to get started on your thesis as soon as possible," Smith said. "I did some tasks early on with ACAS X and I really enjoyed it. It is very applicable to my career. When I dove in, it was already a full-fledged program, funded and contracted by the FAA. They already had the logic, for the most part, in place, and had done some great work prior to me getting there."
His specific mode of logic initially aims to provide additional protection during simultaneous approaches to parallel runways, or closely spaced parallel operations. This logic would also allow for additional airspace protection and minimize the unnecessary alerts pilots deal with in the cockpit, especially critical during instrument meteorological conditions. Tying in with the NextGen goals, Smith's logic code is designed to potentially allow for fewer flight delays, greater cost savings for air transportation across the board, especially at high-volume airports.
"The ultimate goal is to produce a system that maintains or enhances the safety level of the current operational system while reducing unnecessary alerts, thereby decreasing pilot workload during parallel approaches," Smith wrote in his thesis executive summary.
According to the 2013 FAA press release, "Providing collision avoidance protection for aircraft arriving at and departing from parallel runways that are close together will increase efficiency and safety. Kyle's proposal would refine our own improvements through our satellite-based NextGen system, potentially leading to fewer flight delays, greater cost savings, and expanded capacity at high-volume airports.
"Extensive simulation studies have demonstrated the success of his approach, and a flight test to check out his work in real life took place at the FAA's Hughes Technical Center in August of this year. Research and Development efforts like Kyle's are critical to the future of aviation."
For Smith, he felt as at home working with this project as he does inside the cockpit . He submitted it without thinking he even had a shot in the dark because there were better projects out there. He was presented with his award March 7 in Washington D.C.
"It was great," he said. "I might be flying with this system one day, so I will need to trust the work I did."