National Nuclear Security Administration

Proficiency flights ensure NNSA’s aerial measuring system soars

March 23, 2017

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Early in the morning, the AMS Beechcraft 200 with the scientific crew aboard departs Joint Base Andrews for its proficiency flight.

Dr. Jacqueline Beckvermit, an AMS mission manager, conducts a pre-flight mission brief with Jay Tilden, the NNSA associate administrator and deputy undersecretary for counterterrorism and counterproliferation. They reviewed models of a simulated release of radioactive material from a nuclear power plant.

A team of pilots, scientists and technicians based at the Remote Sensing Laboratory at Joint Base Andrews conducted a training mission March 13 in the Aerial Measuring System’s (AMS) fixed-wing airplane. 

AMS supports NNSA’s counterterrorism and public health and safety missions. The AMS system maps ground-surface radiation levels safely from the air, enabling rapid characterization of contamination that may occur as a result of an incident involving the release of radiological material.

“These proficiency training flights are performed on a regular basis to ensure the AMS aircraft and crew are able to support their on-call response duties” said Jay Tilden, NNSA’s deputy undersecretary for counterterrorism and counterproliferation. 

Tilden accompanied the AMS crew to observe the procedures and gain a deeper understanding of the capabilities, assets, and teams under his purview.

The mission simulated a release from the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant near Raleigh, NC, and tested AMS’s rapid response and measurement capability. The twin-engine Beechcraft 200 aircraft is able to reach most points east of the Mississippi River within a few hours of departure from its home base.  

Tilden also participated in a similar training exercise in February with the AMS team at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.  

Both AMS teams at Joint Base Andrews and Nellis Air Force Base maintain around-the-clock capability to respond to radiological or nuclear incidents in the continental United States within a few hours of notification.

Read more about NNSA’s AMS emergency response capabilities.

Beckvermit reviews radiation sensor data with Tilden aboard the AMS Beechcraft 200. During an emergency, the mission manager and equipment specialist monitor the radiation data and provide guidance to the flight crew in order to acquire the most important data and ensure crew safety.

Tilden observes the pre-flight checklist procedures that ensure the safe and reliable operation of a fleet of aircraft with on-call responsibilities.