NNSA's Aerial Measuring System plane takes off from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland

An AMS fixed-wing plane takes off from Joint Base Andrews near Washington, DC.

NNSA's Aerial Measuring System (AMS) has specialized airborne radiation detection systems to provide real-time measurements of low levels of air and ground contamination. The AMS team consists of scientists, technicians, pilots, and ground support personnel. These trained experts are in charge of maintaining a state of readiness to respond to a radiological emergency at any time. The team is based out of Nellis Air Force Base  in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Joint Base Andrews near Washington, D.C.


The AMS mission is to provide a rapid survey of radiation and contamination following a radiological emergency. AMS accomplishes this mission by using specially equipped aircrafts to conduct the surveys. These aircrafts are equipped to detect and measure radioactive contamination on the ground. The AMS uses a sophisticated radiation detection system to gather radiological information and store it on computers. This information is then used to produce maps of radiation exposure and contamination. This technical information is later used to determine the extent of the hazard, and to decide when and where to send federal, state or local ground monitoring teams for further assessments.

Steps in the AMS Emergency Response

In the event of an accident or incident involving radiological materials, NNSA, in consultation with state and other federal agencies, will deploy AMS immediately to the incident site.

  • The fixed-wing aircraft is deployed with the radiation detection system to collect information and determine the location of ground contamination.
  • The helicopters are used to perform detailed surveys of ground contamination.
  • NNSA scientists are then able to rapidly develop maps of the radiological materials deposited on the ground and the potential radiation exposure to personnel in the affected areas. This information gives emergency response officials information necessary to effectively respond to the emergency.
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Aerial Measuring System (AMS)


The fixed-wing aircraft can quickly respond and map the affected area to determine the extent and levels of contamination. This information provides a qualitative picture of the contamination in the effected area. The helicopters are then used to travel at lower altitudes; usually around 150 feet, to provide a complete quantitative assessment of the contamination in the effected area. Typically, helicopters are brought to the site after the fixed-wing aircraft has gathered the first round of data.

In addition to responding to emergencies, the AMS team conducts surveys of NNSA and Department of Energy sites, and participates in interagency exercises. It has performed baseline radiation surveys for most nuclear facilities in the country. This baseline data provides background information for normal levels of radiation in the environment, and is useful as a benchmark if a radiological incident occurs.

All these activities are coordinated through NNSA headquarters.