Friday, March 17, 2017

Tom Kraft - Final Clearance

Tom Kraft and Dave Allen share a beer moments after FANS was first certificated by the FAA (1995). 
Not pictured were Tom Twiggs (Boeing project pilot) and 
David Massey-Greene (QANTAS Chief Technical Pilot) on the other end of the table.
Sadly all four are gone
Tom Kraft died yesterday in an accident, at his home looking out on Hood Canal. His tragic passing comes less than a year after retiring from a 30+year career at the FAA, leading air traffic control into the digital age.

One day, back in 1982, I looked across from my lab test bench and saw Tom working on his test bench (I was on autothrottle; Tom was on autopilot). We chatted about this and that. Turned out he was a classmate of Dick Weaver, who had worked with me on PACS the year before (Pitch Augmentation Control System).

Tom left Boeing shortly thereafter, to play a significant role at the FAA in gaining approval for Future Air Navigation System (FANS) on a QANTAS 747-400 in 1995. FANS enabled data link clearances, data link surveillance, and closer-spaced flight tracks due to Required Navigation Performance (RNP) procedures using GPS. 

It turns out, technology is pretty easy to agree and approve. Getting pilots and controllers to agree, and for them to accept its limitations and capabilities, and for them to get procedures approved internationally, and for airlines/operators, communication and air navigations service providers to invest, is very hard (even today). Fortunate for us all, Tom Kraft spent his career dragging aviation ahead.

Tom, by then one of a handful of FAA National Resource Specialists (in his case for data link) went on to chair RTCA SC-189, which gave rise to Required Communications Performance (RCP). RCP enables the human/machine factors to be accounted for in the transition to data link from voice control, and thus establish a sorely-needed objective basis for approval. This methodology shifted the mindset from specifying design to manage performance, to specifying performance to manage performance. For the first time, a "black box" system could compete equally to legacy systems built to an industry design standard. High level features remain, but the service provider and supplier are left much more free to optimize their equipment to favor their network attributes.

Tom most recently chaired PARC-CWG (Performance Based Aviation Rule making Committee - Communications Working Group), which formalized the process for airlines and air navigation service providers to approve data link operatations (GOLD) and created the baseline for Performance Based Navigation (PBN), which is the future of airborne operations. 

Airplanes operating over remote oceans as close as 30 nm apart (down from 150 nm in the old days) take best advantage of favorable routes, and benefit from automation gained by data link powering communications and surveillance.

Passengers get the best ride, the shortest flight time, the lowest cost.

Tom Kraft shepherded regulators, controllers service providers, suppliers, and operators into new agreements and approvals. He paved the pathways that give rise to approving modern air navigation and control. Beyond that, he was upbeat, open-minded, and tirelessly dogged in his pursuits. I don't know how Tom persevered through so many roadblocks; lesser persons would have given up. Yet he was never too busy to share, to listen, and to take action.

Tom had landed his great flight with the FAA, and was due an even greater one in retirement, but sadly suffered a diversion. Tom, thank you for your service. We all will fly easier. For your friendship, I will always be grateful.

Official Tom Kraft FAA Bio

Tom Kraft

In spite of all the challenges, Tom barely aged.

Tom Kraft (the view he loved so much)

Tom Kraft (he posted this just a few days ago).
Where the eagles standing by, to escort him on his final flight? I like to think so. 

God speed!

Stay tuned,

Peter Lemme

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