Abstract

Flight safety in all weather conditions demands exact and reliable determination of flight-critical air parameters. Air speed, temperature, density, and pressure are essential for aircraft control. Conventional air data systems can be impacted by probe failure caused by mechanical damage from hail, volcanic ash, and icing. While optical air speed measurement methods have been discussed elsewhere, in this paper, a new concept for optically measuring the air temperature, density, pressure, moisture, and particle backscatter is presented, being independent on assumptions on the atmospheric state and eliminating the drawbacks of conventional aircraft probes by providing a different measurement principle. The concept is based on a laser emitting laser pulses into the atmosphere through a window and detecting the signals backscattered from a fixed region just outside the disturbed area of the fuselage flows. With four receiver channels, different spectral portions of the backscattered light are extracted. The measurement principle of air temperature and density is based on extracting two signals out of the rotational Raman (RR) backscatter signal of air molecules. For measuring the water vapor mixing ratio—and thus the density of the moist air—a water vapor Raman channel is included. The fourth channel serves to detect the elastic backscatter signal, which is essential for extending the measurements into clouds. This channel contributes to the detection of aerosols, which is interesting for developing a future volcanic ash warning system for aircraft. Detailed and realistic optimization and performance calculations have been performed based on the parameters of a first prototype of such a measurement system. The impact and correction of systematic error sources, such as solar background at daytime and elastic signal cross talk appearing in optically dense clouds, have been investigated. The results of the simulations show the high potential of the proposed system for reliable operation in different atmospheric conditions. Based on a laser emitting pulses at a wavelength of 532 nm with 200 mJ pulse energy, the expected measurement precisions (1σ statistical uncertainty) are <0.6K for temperature, <0.3% for density, and <0.4% for pressure for the detection of a single laser pulse at a flight altitude of 13,000 m at daytime. The errors will be smaller during nighttime or at lower altitudes. Even in optically very dense clouds with backscatter ratios of 10,000 and RR filters suppressing the elastic backscatter by 6 orders of magnitude, total errors of <1.4K, <0.4%, and <0.9%, are expected, respectively. The calculations show that aerospace accuracy standards will be met with even lower pulse energies of 75 mJ for pressure and 18 mJ for temperature measurements when the backscatter signals of 10 laser pulses are averaged. Using laser sources at 355 nm will lead to a further reduction of the necessary pulse energies by more than a factor of 3.

© 2012 Optical Society of America

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