An AMS plane in the air
An Aerial Measuring System plane in the air.

The Aerial Measuring System (AMS) is a rapidly deployable capability that can respond to all manner of nuclear incidents and accidents in the United States and overseas. AMS consists of a fleet of aircraft equipped with specialized radiation detection systems to provide real-time measurements of air and ground radiation contamination. AMS scientists, technical personnel, and pilots are on-call 365 days per year / 24 hours per day to deploy in response to nuclear incidents and accidents.

AMS aircraft are outfitted with state-of-the-art communications and radiation detection systems. These capabilities ensure that AMS science teams on board can communicate in real time with experts at the National Laboratories and support rapid protective action decisions. The AMS fleet includes three Beechcraft BN-350 Extended Range fixed-wing aircraft and two Bell 412 rotary-wing aircraft stationed as needed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

Following a release of radioactive material, AMS can provide the fastest and most complete picture of radiological conditions that may impact public safety and the environment. The data that AMS provides is often the first scientifically defensible and actionable product that federal, state, and local officials can use to support health and safety decisions such as evacuation and shelter-in-place guidance. As part of its dual public safety and national security mission, AMS frequently supports Preventative Nuclear and Radiological Detection operations in preparation for high-profile events such as the Super Bowl, the national political party conventions, and the Presidential inauguration.

AMS’s heritage dates back to 1958, when the Aerial Radiological Measuring System (ARMS) was established to support the U.S. Geological Survey. The first operational use of this capability occurred in support of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site, when ARMS aircraft mapped the distribution of radioactive material. After U.S. nuclear testing moved underground, ARMS was used to confirm that radioactive materials were not released into the atmosphere. Later, ARMS transitioned to a rapid response capability to provide time-critical data to decisionmakers during a radiological emergency and became known as AMS. One such deployment involved the use of AMS helicopters during the response to the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

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Aerial Measuring System (AMS)
NNSA