Honing Airborne Technique Skills

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) recently completed the latest on-site inspections (OSI) training activity. The Airborne Technique Skills (ATS) training course was held in Italy from 18 to 27 September 2013, in and around Catania, Sicily. The course was designed to familiarize participants with the use of new and existing equipment used on airborne platforms. It was the most extensive training to date on the airborne skills required to conduct overflight operations.

Massimo Chiappini (Italy), head of the INGV team, instructs on the handling of the airborne magnetometer, also called “the bird”.

The ATS training was very useful to build up the confidence and skill of the participants. As a trainee from [Visual Observations] VOB, this gave me the opportunity to build up my confidence to perform VOB activities alone, which we performed as a group earlier. In addition, I observed and learnt activities of other disciplines in an air-borne mission, which would help me in future mission planning.

Participants from ten CTBTO Member States took part in the training: the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Sri Lanka, the United States, and Zimbabwe. Each of the participants was a national expert in a particular set of technologies - Visual Observation (VOB), Radionuclide (RN) and Continuation Period Techniques (CPT). In a real OSI, which will be possible after the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), inspectors with these areas of expertise will work together, applying their skills synergistically to detect signs of a nuclear explosion. ATS training allowed participants to plan and conduct airborne missions that considered the operational requirements of each skill set.

From left: Dharani De Silva Wijesundara (Sri Lanka), Antonietta Rizzo (Italy) and Dumezweni Sibanda (Zimbabwe) set up equipment to determine a ground reference point.

Naama Charit Yaari (Israel, centre) and Stavros Seferlis (Greece, right) discussing their position with facilitator Alfio Messina (Italy) during a ground-based mission.

ATS Training gave us hands-on time with the airborne gamma and magnetic survey equipment, and achieved fusion in the application of the different techniques. And the hospitality in Italy by INGV was superior!

Two techniques were practised during ATS: airborne gamma spectroscopy and aeromagnetic field mapping. Aeromagnetic field mapping is used for measuring deviations in the Earth’s magnetic fields. Such deviations may be caused by different iron-containing objects in the ground, which can point to infrastructure elements of an underground nuclear test explosion, such as pipes and cables. The equipment used by surrogate inspectors during ATS was provided by the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV). The INGV team facilitated ATS training by providing extensive support through its specialists and expertise.

Initial health and safety briefing on safe operations in and around the aircraft.

Markku Kettunen (Finland) conducting the pre-flight briefing.

Airborne gamma spectroscopy is used to gain an understanding of the level and type of radioactive material in the inspection area. As a large scale survey technique, it can be used over the entire inspection area. It may also be employed in a more focused way to characterize radionuclides in a region of interest within the inspection area. The equipment used during ATS training was given as a contribution in kind by Canada. Facilitators from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) familiarized the trainees with the new system and provided training on system installation and removal and data acquisition.

Henry Seywerd from Canada's NRCan demonstrates the start up procedure for the Canadian gamma spec equipment.

Additional Overflights require a broad array of skills. There are many less obvious skills required, including extensive communication and planning. It’s very important that the disciplines work together before, during and after the overflights, in order to optimize the results. During ATS Training, the participants applied their expertise to the tasks at hand and showed outstanding teamwork. Morale remained high throughout - even during ground-based field missions in the pouring rain!

The participants were also trained in related ground-based skills, including flight planning, communication with pilots, launching and receiving the airborne magnetometer, ground-based position finding, and base station installation.

Don Felske (United States) surveys a suitable site to set up the ground-based magnetometer.

The health and safety of the inspectors is of primary importance. Radiation health and safety concepts have been trained in the past and were reinforced during ATS training. In addition, there was a strong element of helicopter and flight specific health and safety awareness that was practised, with safety briefings prior to each flight.

Monitoring gamma spectrometer in-flight data acquisition.

I think that some of us trainees were a little worried about how it would be to work in a helicopter and, above all, taking off and landing of the bird while standing under the roaring chopper. Now, after the training, we are all more relaxed and feel comfortable when thinking about what we are up to next year in Jordan during IFE14.

The new skills acquired and the Canadian and Italian equipment will be used during the November 2014 Integrated Field Exercise (IFE14) in Jordan. This exercise will be the CTBTO’s most comprehensive OSI simulation since IFE08 in Kazakhstan.
The next OSI workshop in preparation of IFE14 will take place in China (Yangzhou, Jingsau) from 11 to 15 November 2013.

Ales Fronka (Czech Republic) prepares to remove and pack the gamma spectrometer at the end of training.