Sometimes, science demands that you fill a military plane with volcanic ash and fire it into the air off the coast of France.
And that’s what Airbus, easyJet, and Nicarnica Aviation, a Norwegian company that specialises in infrared and ultraviolet sensing technologies, did on Tuesday.
The point was to test out a new system developed to detect volcanic ash — often invisible to the eye — from miles away, and allow jets to avoid the damage ash can do to their engines.
In 2010, the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland forced the shutdown of much of European airspace for about three weeks — not good for business. To prepare for the next major eruption, the three companies took to the skies over the Bay of Biscay.
An Airbus A400M military plane led the way, shooting Icelandic ash into the air as it made five tight loops, creating an artificial cloud about 10,000 feet above the ground. A DA42 prop plane flew through the cloud, collecting measurements. And an Airbus A340-300 passenger plane, equipped with the detection system, flew far behind.
The test of the Airborne Volcanic Object Imaging Detector, or AVOID, was a success: It picked up the ash from about 37 miles away.
Now easyJets’s plan is to get the system onto some of its planes by the end of 2014. Here are some photos from the test.
The AVOID system is mounted on the outside of the Airbus A340-300.
This is what it looks like from the inside.
The A400M is loaded up with canisters of volcanic ash:
Which team members scooped up and fired into the air:
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