CLEVELAND (WJW) – NASA’s Glenn Research Center is introducing a new aircraft that could soon lead to the future of air travel in Northeast Ohio.

The Pilatus PC-12 aircraft will conduct aeronautics research missions, including an investigation of how to safely manage the emerging Advanced Air Mobility ecosystem.

“It’s a test facility, just like the wind tunnels here on the labs, just like the drop towers where we do microgravity testing. It’s a facility that researchers at NASA can put their equipment on and test in the National Airspace structure,” NASA Glenn Chief of Aircraft Operations James Demers said.

The first mission is to test communication technology in an urban environment. Demers said Cleveland is the perfect candidate. 

“Cleveland has the exact environment that we need, right? So, we’ve got snow, we’ve got rain, we’ve got water, we’ve got the city – and we’ve got foliage on the trees, off the trees, different seasons,” Demers said. “All of that matters when you’re testing communications equipment.”

NASA Glenn Director of Aeronautics Timothy McCartney said this is the first step in a much larger plan to advance the aircraft travel industry.

“This will enable us to test and validate the technologies that are required so that we will be able to have drones flying around delivering your package,” McCartney said. “We will be able to have urban air taxis moving people around.”

NASA’s grand plan called Advanced Air Mobility, or AAM, would allow for aircraft travel across towns, between cities or other locations accessed by cars today.

“The density and diversity of aircraft that will be flying 20 years from now is very different than what we see here,” McCartney said. “It’s not going to be your dad’s airspace.”

NASA Glenn Research Pilot Kurt Blankenship says the PC 12 is a major upgrade for pilots.

“I mean, the technology that his aircraft affords over the twin otter is amazing,” Blankenship said. “A fully pressurized aircraft that can go up to 30,000 feet, and speeds of up to 310 miles per hour, and as slow as 90 or 80 miles an hour.”

The new aircraft affords the program the ability to do critical research for the next two decades.

“It’s a building block of our new airspace structure,” Demers said. “We’re trying to get things in and around the cities. We’re trying to advance the state of aeronautics. This is really a core foundation to what we need to do, is transferring data and communicating.”

“For me, being a Cleveland boy, that they know that NASA Glenn and Northeast Ohio, and Cleveland is playing a critical role in the future of aerospace and AAM,” McCartney said.