Small research aircraft measures volcanic ash cloud

Product News

July 25, 2011

The ash cloud which travelled to Australia after the recent Chilean volcano eruption has led to hundreds of flight cancellations, 200,000 stranded passengers and cost the airlines an estimated $21 million. Jorg Hacker, OxTS customer and scientist at Airborne Research Australia, has equipped a small aircraft with high-tech measurement systems and is now able to fly through ash clouds in order to quantify the amount of ash particles in the air. This will give the airline industry more scientific information on their decision making whether to cancel flights or not.

100_JoergHackerJorg Hacker’s small motorised glider is able to fly about 20,000ft, where airlines normally fly. Pods attached to the wings contain scientific measurement instruments to measure the size and quantity of the ash particles. The OxTS RT4003 GPS-aided inertial navigation system is used to determine the exact location of the ash particles in the sky. The highly accurate RT4003 system has been fitted to Jorg’s plane since 2005 and has been a vital part of many aerial surveys. It is able to provide high precision position and orientation data in real-time, which is essential for all airborne surveys carried out by Airborne Research Australia.

With the help of Jorg Hacker’s research aircraft, airlines and safety authorities can be better informed on their decision whether to fly or not in the future. The flight through the ash cloud south of Australia confirmed that the density of the ash was below the threshold where it would pose a threat to jet engines. If these safe levels of ash had been confirmed earlier, it could have prevented some flight cancellations and saved the airlines a significant amount of money. In the event of future volcanic eruptions, Airborne Research Australia’s small scientific aircraft will be able to collect information about the density of ash particles in the air and inform airline authorities about the levels of ash and the exact location of the particles during their flight.