New Instrument Could Detect Hidden Aviation Hazards

Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) is leading a team of researchers from five universities and organizations to investigate the use of an instrument called a forward looking interferometer to detect invisible aviation hazards during takeoff, cruise, and landing. NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia is also part of the team.

Although radar and other systems can warn pilots of potential weather hazards during flight, they do not detect all possible atmospheric dangers. If a plane encounters turbulence or low visibility that does not include rain droplets, radar will not sense them.

altForward looking interferometers – passive infrared radiometers based on high-resolution Fourier transform spectrometry technologies – were originally developed for satellite remote sensing. They can detect the presence of the environmental hazards by identifying each hazard’s distinct infrared spectral signature. The instruments have been used to detect aerosols and gases in the air, but not from aircraft during flight. With funding from NASA, the team is conducting studies to determine the sensitivity of the system for detecting clear-air turbulence, wake vortices, volcanic ash, low visibility, dry wind shear, and icing. They are also developing algorithms to estimate the severity of the hazards.

The combination of high spectral and temperature resolutions in the forward looking interferometer should enable sophisticated algorithms with high detection rates and low false alarm rates. The instrument will also function as an infrared imager, providing a real-time video display with night vision capability and enhanced vision in obscured conditions. Further research will determine if the hazards can be detected with sufficient time-to-alarm for safe maneuvering to avoid the hazards.

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