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DOE/NNSA Bell 412 helicopter
DOE/NNSA Bell 412 helicopter

Residents may see low-altitude aircraft near downtown and the National Mall

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) will conduct low-altitude helicopter flights over downtown Washington, D.C. and areas in and around the Nation’s capital beginning on October 19 in preparation for the Presidential Inauguration. The inauguration is scheduled to take place on January 20, 2021. 

NNSA’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) aircraft will measure naturally occurring background radiation as part of standard preparations to protect public health and safety on the day of the event. 

Local residents may see a twin-engine Bell 412 helicopter, which is equipped with sensitive, state-of-the-art passive radiation sensing technology. The helicopter will fly in a grid pattern over the areas at 150 feet (or higher) above the ground at a speed of approximately 80 mph. Flyovers will occur only during daylight hours and are estimated to take approximately two hours to complete per area. The aircraft measurements will be purely scientific in nature, and no surveillance or other form of monitoring will occur during these flights.  

The aerial surveys are a normal part of security and emergency preparedness activities. NNSA is making the public aware of the upcoming flights so citizens who see the low-flying aircraft are not alarmed. 

The NEST survey aircraft is an element of the Aerial Measuring System (AMS), based at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. For more information and video footage of NNSA’s AMS aircraft, see https://www.energy.gov/nnsa/aerial-measuring-system-ams

NEST is part of NNSA’s Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation Program and provides the Nation’s nuclear or radiological emergency response capability. NEST provides domestic and international reach through regional programs, offices, and personnel.