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The history of the ARSF

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G-NERC: PA31 Navajo Chieftain

The PA31 Navajo Chieftain operated by the ARSF.

In 1983, a Piper PA31 Navajo Chieftain aircraft was acquired and converted to survey configuration, initially deploying a WILD RC-8 metric survey camera. A number of aviation services operated the aircraft, providing pilot and instrument operator as required, with an Operations Manager/Navigator employed by NERC. For a number of years a range of digital spectrographic imaging instrumentation - including a Daedalus 1268 Airborne Thematic Mapper (ATM) - was demonstrated, and a WILD RC-10 camera replaced the RC-8.


In response to increasing demand for digital data, the decision was made in 1993 that the ARSF should acquire its own suite of core instrumentation and NERC purchased a refurbished Daedalus 1268 Airborne Thematic Mapper (ATM).


The LOIS Programme funded the purchase of an ITRES Research Compact Airborne Spectrographic Imager (CASI 502). It was also decided to develop a GPS-driven parametric image correction capability - leading to purchase of an Ashtech 3-DF GPS system and commissioning of a novel Integrated Data System (IDS) and associated ground-based processing facility (at CEH Monks Wood). IDS development proved difficult due to the cutting edge nature of the concept and approach and to changing requirements on the part of users.

D-CALM Dornier 228

The Dornier 228 (D-CALM) operated by the ARSF.


The CASI 502 was upgraded to the latest CASI-2 configuration. At the same time, the GPS was replaced with a state-of-the-art Javad Positioning Systems Octopus, capable of receiving both GPS and GLONASS satellite data at high recording rates.

The PA31 aircraft was 27 years old and had reached the end of its useful life, in terms of ability to accommodate further development of instrument systems and science applications. In October 2000, a replacement airborne research aircraft - a Dornier 228 - was acquired via a 3-year lease deal with the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR). This extensively modified aircraft was capable of accommodating the current ARSF core instrumentation, as well as additional experimental optical and geophysical sensors, it was also configured to deploy a range of atmospheric sampling instrumentation.


The PA31 was leased to the University of Cambridge's Unit for Landscape Modelling (ULM) as part of an advantageous collaborative deal to expand the ARSF scientific capabilities with access to the ULM Cambridge Optech 3033 LiDAR system.


The AM scan head   The CASI instrument

The scan head of the Daedalus 1268 ATM and the scan head, control rack and display screen of the Itres CASI-2


An Applanix POSAV 310 navigation and positioning system was added to update the geocorrection capabilities of the data provided by the ATM and CASI instruments.


The ARSF first Deployed the Dornier 228 in Darwin, Australia proving the global capability of the aircraft and crew.

An Isokinetic Aerosol Sampling Inlet was acquired for the ACTIVE project. This inlet is designed to reduce aerosol losses and errors during the collection of atmospheric data. An AIMMS - 20 probe was also fitted to collect wind, turbulence and basic meteorological data. The ARSF also deployed PMS type instruments in the external wing pylons for the first time.

RC10 Medium Format Camera negatives were first scanned to provide digital data rather than the traditional high cost prints. Meta data was also added to the Data files.

Specim Eagle and Hawk Hyperspectral instruments were purchased giving the ARSF both Hyperspectral and SWIR capabilities.


The lease agreement for the Dornier 228 was converted to a purchase of the aircraft from the German Aerospace Research organisation DLR.


Data processing of the Eagle and Hawk instruments was moved to the newly formed ARSF Data Analysis Node (DAN) located alongside the NERC Earth Observation Data Analysis Service (NEODAS) at Plymouth Marine Laboratory.


An integrated operator control system was incorporated to streamline the multiple instrument configuration and reduce work flow in the operation of the growing number of instruments operated simultaneously.

The ARSF first deployed to Africa to collect remotely sensed data in Ethiopia.

The ARSF made its first deployment to South America and participated in the VOCALS project in Chile. The aircraft was used to collect both remotely sensed and in-situ measurements simultaneously to measure cloud structures.

The Leica ALS50 II lidar was purchased giving the ARSF access to a LiDAR system for the full Remote Sensing season. An RCD 105 medium format camera was also supplied by Leica.


The ARSF relocates to new premises in Gloucester Airport. The new facility gave additional calibration and workshop space.


The Leica ALS-50II LiDAR is converted to collect Full Waveform Data giving an exciting cutting edge capability for scientific users. Solid state disks were also fitted to enable operation upto 20,000 feet.

The ARSF responded following the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. D-CALM was the first European scientific aircraft to collect in-situ data which was used by the UK Met Office to advise the Government and open the skies to commercial traffic.

ARSF Dornier 228 become the first aircraft used to study Standing Ocean Waves using LiDAR technology.


As a response to the need for Aerosol data to be collected during Survey flights for atmospheric corrections of the optical data, the Autonomous Aerosol Particle Counter (AAPC) was developed using a Grimm SKY-OPC to collect operator free Aerosol data on all science and transit flights.

A Droplet Measurement Technologies CAPS probe was purchased to enhance the ARSF's capabilities to collect additional particulate and cloud physics data.

Historical equipment

The following equipment is no longer available for use but details have been retained for refference.