Airbus Group has completed successful flight tests on a fiber-optic, eye-safe, laser-based sensor system that delivers accurate airspeed information in three axes at low and negative airspeed for rotary wing aircraft. This range of capability generally is not possible with pitot tubes, the industry standard for airspeed sensors.

The sensor system was developed by Virginia-based Optical Air Data Systems (OADS) and was installed on an Airbus Dauphin 6542 helicopter for flight tests that were conducted in France by Airbus Group's helicopters division. Airbus Group now will work with OADS for certification, with the ultimate goal being commercialization aboard rotary wing aircraft.

The OADS system measures airspeed as low as -20 knots with an accuracy of more than 2 knots over the entire flight envelope compared to standard pitot tubes, which are not functional at airspeeds below 30 knots. The system measures the air 50-60 meters away from the aircraft. This factor can be significant in rotary wing applications, where airspeed measurements may be affected by the downwash effect.

The OADS system is not affected by icing, which can form in the sensor openings of pitot tubes, blocking their ability to accurately measure airspeed.
The OADS technology can measure wind and turbulence several thousand feet above and below the aircraft, allowing pilots to select the most favorable flight altitudes, resulting in fuel savings and a smoother ride.

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