Lasers on planes to prevent fatal crashes

Aug 03, 2012

(Phys.org) -- A low-cost laser sensor that can quickly and accurately measure the velocity of commercial passenger aircrafts could complement existing sensors and help prevent fatal aeroplane crashes, say University of New South Wales engineers.

Using facilities provided by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation in Melbourne, researchers from UNSW Canberra have developed and successfully tested a proof-of-concept laser-based sensor in a high-speed .

“One of the problems with current sensors is that they are susceptible to icing in bad weather,” says Dr Sean O’Byrne from the School of Engineering and Information Technology.  “Our technology is based on laser light, meaning there are no physical components in the airflow. Instead they are located inside the aircraft where the temperature can be controlled.”

Currently used airspeed – known as Pitot tubes – have been considered possible failure points for several fatal aircraft accidents, most recently, Air France flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in June 2009. 

Accident investigators suspect that a severe storm caused the forward facing pressure holes on the Pitot tube on flight 447 to fill with ice, which prevented the pilots from receiving accurate measurements.

“Pitot tubes are simple and reliable instruments, but when they get obstructed, either by ice, dirt build-up, or by birds or insects flying into them, they don’t tell you your correct speed,” says O’Byrne. “Then you need to rely on backup plans, like GPS, which in storm conditions may not do the job.”

“The technology we have developed measures airspeed like a Pitot tube, but doesn’t have something poking out into the air. It has a window, which can be built into a recess in the body of the plane, and which can be heated. This also means, in sudden icing situations, it can be kept out of the wind.” 

And while it’s not designed to replace the Pitot tubes entirely, the researchers say it can be used as a low-cost measure to augment the tubes, which will give flight staff more confidence in their readings and help guard against fatal crashes.

O’Byrne says the sensor employs the same technology used in laser computer mice, and measures velocity by using the Doppler shift of the light absorbed by oxygen molecules.

The idea for the sensor was born out of the group’s work on the SCRAMSPACE project. The next step is to scale down the proof-of-concept into an aircraft-ready design and conduct flight tests.

Explore further: Off-world manufacturing is a go with space printer

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Winds of fortune

May 02, 2011

Alisa Rogers finished 10th grade and was already headed to Syracuse University. But before leaving her Baltimore high school, she met her future husband and business partner.

Stealth unmanned combat vehicle makes first flight

May 04, 2011

Looking like something straight from a 1950’s science fiction magazine, the stealthy Phantom Ray unmanned airborne system (UAS) successfully completed its first flight on April 27, 2011 at NASA’s ...

Space foil helping to build safer cars

Mar 19, 2012

A special foil sensor developed to measure the pressure on a spaceplane’s wings during reentry into Earth’s atmosphere is now helping to build safer cars.

Storm researcher calls for new air safety guidelines

Jun 26, 2012

Aircraft turbulence guidelines should be completely rewritten after new research by Centre of Excellence chief investigator Dr. Todd Lane revealed thunderstorms could produce unexpected turbulence more than ...

WHOI-led team locates Air France wreckage

Apr 05, 2011

A search team led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has located the wreckage of Air France Flight 447 some 3,900 meters, or nearly 2.5 miles, below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean off Brazil’s ...

Recommended for you

Off-world manufacturing is a go with space printer

Dec 20, 2014

On Friday, the BBC reported on a NASA email exchange with a space station which involved astronauts on the International Space Station using their 3-D printer to make a wrench from instructions sent up in ...

First drone in Nevada test program crashes in demo

Dec 19, 2014

A drone testing program in Nevada is off to a bumpy start after the first unmanned aircraft authorized to fly without Federal Aviation Administration supervision crashed during a ceremony in Boulder City.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.