The Airborne Internet is a proposed network in which all nodes would be located in aircraft. The network is intended for use in aviation communications, navigation, and surveillance (CNS) and would also be useful to businesses, private Internet users, and government agencies, especially the military. In time of war, for example, an airborne network might enable military planes to operate without the need for a communications infrastructure on the ground. Such a network could also allow civilian planes to continually monitor each other's positions and flight paths.
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At least three different methods have been proposed for putting communication nodes aloft. The first method would employ manned aircraft, the second method would use unmanned aircraft, and the third method would use blimps. The nodes would provide air-to-air, surface-to-air, and surface-to-surface communications. The aircraft or blimps would fly at altitudes of around 10 mi (16 km), and would cover regions of about 40 mi (64 mi) in radius. Data transfer rates would be on the order of several megabits per second, comparable to those of high-speed cable modem connections. Network users could communicate directly with other users, and indirectly with conventional Internet users through surface-based nodes. Like the Internet, the Airborne Network would use TCP/IP as the set of protocols for specifying network addresses and ensuring message packets arrive.
The concept of the Airborne Internet was first proposed at NASA Langley Research Center's Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) Planning Conference in 1999. The goal of the SATS initiative is implementation of small aircraft for public transportation. In one conference session, it was suggested that such a system would require a peer-to-peer communciations network among the aircraft. The Airborne Internet Consortium formed subsequently to promote and aid in the development of such a system. Consortion members include Aerosat, C3D Aero, and United Airlines.
Airborne Internet is sometimes shortened to AI, although that abbreviation more commonly refers to artificial intelligence.