Sensors along the runway – not just for FOD

Sensors, especially very advanced ones, have a unique way of self development. Or, to be more precise, the sensors are becoming diversified as they are being used for purposes other than the original aim.

Foreign object detection (FOD) on runways is an international problem. Special teams at civil airports and air bases have one job – to detect objects that can endanger an aircraft taking off.

The Concorde supersonic airliner crash in France in 2000 was a wake-up call for those that have underestimated the problem. The sequence that caused the aircraft to crash soon after take-off was started by a metal object on the runway.

Israeli company X-Sight is the manufacturer of one of the most advanced FOD detection systems available today. The company’s FODetect system is already installed at airports in the US, Europe, Southeast Asia and Israel.

FODetect features surface detection units (SDU) located on the edge-light bases along the runway travel surfaces. Each SDU consists of a small 77GHz millimeter wave radar system, combined with a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera with zoom.

Each SDU scans a runway section in less than 30s, with detection resolution down to the size of an aircraft nut or rivet.

Each SDU is also equipped with near-infrared illumination unit, to enable the use of the CCD camera at night.

The large number of sensors located along the runway allows for necessary redundancy, so each SDU can cover adjacent zones and give a different viewing angle for better identification.

All the SDUs are connected to the main control Centre using the existing power line communications system at the airport.

However, as I mentioned, users quickly discovered that such a great number of dual sensors along runways offers something that may seem a byproduct – but may also be a very important one.

The many sensors can also be used to monitor the contact of the aircraft with the tarmac – heavy landing, off-centre line landing and landing gear problems are just a few of the events which can be monitored live, enabling staff to call an emergency and later an efficient debriefing process.

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