OADS visits govt agencies, OEMs and customers with Falcon 50 and Premier IA

Bell UH1 is used in helo development tests for zero-zero LandSafe system.

By Phil Rose
Managing Editor

OADS Founder & CEO Phil Rogers, his wife Exec VP Alisa Rogers, daughter Technical Dir Elizabeth Dakin and her husband Research Scientist & Test Dir Daniel Dakin. Canine family members are Ricky and Lucy, equipment is LandSafe PFIS box and Airspeed lenses. Aircraft are North American Harvard (alias AT6), Boeing Stearman PT17, Raytheon Premier IA, Bell UH1H and F4U-7 Corsair.

With a custom-built headquarters building at HEF (Manassas VA) that serves as research laboratory, manufacturing site and flight facility, Optical Air Data Systems (OADS) is a privately-held high-tech firm whose products may one day turn the pitot-static system into a museum curiosity.

Founder & CEO Phil Rogers, a former Lockheed "Skunk Works" aero engineer and department manager, formed OADS in California in 1990 with his wife Alisa, a fellow Skunk Works engineer.

The goal was to develop a fiberoptic/laser-based airspeed/ angle-of-attack system that would replace the pitot tube. Substantial government and private investment has allowed OADS to develop and integrate telecom technology in a wide range of applications.

As a result, says Rogers, OADS has been a world leader for 21 years in lightweight, rugged light detection and ranging (LIDAR) and remote sensing equipment for precision measurement applications.

The company has also developed fiberoptic laser systems to detect and measure target range/velocity and remote wind conditions. Several years ago, after turning its attention to the renewable energy market, OADS developed a series of LIDAR wind sensors for wind turbine control, and in 2008 spun off its subsidiary Catch The Wind (CTW) as a public company. OADS engineers have also designed and tailored these sensors to MIL-STD requirements.

OADS Bell UH1H in degraded visual environment flight test, staff and dogs prepare to board Premier IA at HEF, Premier departs for business meeting in Georgia.

Rogers notes that OADS developed the world's first hand-held laser wind sensor, which measures wind speed and direction to a distance of 1000 yards and was used by the winning team during the 33rd Americas Cup Challenge 2 years ago.

One of OADS's products with a direct aerospace application is the world's first LIDAR-based low-speed airspeed sensor, altimeter and ground velocity sensor for rotary-wing aircraft. The company has also developed a rugged LIDAR-based landing aid—the LandSafe precision flight instrumentation system (PFIS).

What LandSafe PFIS does is provide an answer to an age-old problem for military helicopter pilots and others who operate in degraded visual environments (DVE). Taking off and landing in DVE—for example, "brown­out" and "whiteout" conditions—has always been extremely hazardous.

Downwash from the main rotor creates clouds of dust or other material that can result in a total loss of situational awareness for helicop­ter crews. LandSafe PFIS, coupled to an autopilot and auto­land system, allows helicopters to operate safely in DVE.

Rogers explains that development of the system originated in a 5-year Office of Naval Research (ONR) program to tackle brownouts during desert warfare in Afghani­stan and Iraq. The US Navy funded work on development of a laser system that could measure altitude, groundspeed, ground drift and airspeeds of 40 kts and under (where pitot-static performance is unreliable and susceptible to rotor wash effect).

ONR carried out some early work at NHK (Patuxent River NAS, Patuxent River MD) using OADS equipment installed on a CH53E test bed. OADS has tested LandSafe PFIS at INS (Creech AFB, Indian Springs NV) and LGF (Yuma Proving Ground NV), proving its ability to enable a helicopter to land with no visual cues—in other words, allowing zero-zero ops. Use of a laser airspeed sensor will also open the door to urban ILS and steep ap­proaches. According to Rogers, a major OEM has signed with OADS to test a low-speed airspeed installation this spring.

The OADS WindSceptor 1 air data system (for fixed-wing applications) detects and measures winds above and below an aircraft's flight altitude, in addition to primary air data, resulting in selection of optimal altitudes and significant fuel savings. It can also detect turbulence, allowing a crew to select the best altitude for cruise.

While all the technology for Wind­Sceptor 1 is in place—and OADS is now looking for an airframe OEM—WindSceptor 2, which is in long-term development, will be what OADS calls a true optical air data sensor suite. According to the company, WindScep­tor 2 will report true airspeed, angle of attack and angle of sideslip across all flight regimes, in addition to turbulence and winds aloft information—essentially taking the place of a pitot-static system.

For FBW aircraft, Wind­Sceptor 2 will shorten the time from flight data acquisition to computer input and reduce BFL figures compared with pitot-static data.
Rogers describes his company's products as quality hardware embodying mature technology. He anticipates future expansion through product diversification, cost reduction and strategic partnerships with OEMs.

All OADS facilities are at HEF—including 16,000 sq ft of laboratories and offices and a 12,500 sq ft hangar. The move from California was made in 1993, says Rogers. Given the nature of much of OADS's work, HEF is an ideal location, being close to Washington DC and less than 15 nm from IAD.

The current buildings were completed in 2005 and house a staff of around 40, half of whom work in scientific and engineering research. The remainder consist of administrative and tech support staff—and, of course, aviation department members.

Rogers describes HEF as "a great airport with good runways and approaches." He adds, "While we don't fly in really bad weather, we're able to operate here with very few delays."


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