Nuclear security helicopter scours Boston Marathon route for radiation

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This morning, a Department of Energy helicopter buzzed over the cities and suburbs of eastern Massachusetts, reaching 125. was scanning for radiation beforeth Boston Marathon. Sweeps are a part of security preparedness to help detect potential “dirty bombs” and other terrorist activities before they claim any lives.

The flight began with a thorough scan of the starting line in the western suburb of Hopkinton, before taking off along a 26.2-mile route to the finish line in Boston, where the helicopter conducted a more comprehensive survey. According to FlightAware, the craft continued to fly at low altitude the entire time, dropping below 100 feet on several occasions.

Flight path for N412DE on the morning of October 8, 2021.
information about flying

Twin-engine Bell 412 (tail number N412DE) is run by the National Nuclear Security Administration, a division of the Department of Energy responsible for everything from nonproliferation to maintaining the nation’s nuclear stockpile. The helicopter is part of the agency’s Aerial Measuring System, which conducts radiological surveys regularly before major events, including presidential inaugurations, the Super Bowls and New Year’s Eve celebrations in Las Vegas.

The NNSA will conduct additional surveys in the Boston area over the next three days, including Monday, when the marathon will be run. Today’s flight aims to develop a map of background radiation sources, which will help helicopters and other ground-based sensors to detect any unusual radiological activity on race day, including so-called “dirty bombs” that can emit radioactive material. Traditional explosives are used to disperse.

Source mapping

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Background radiation maps are important in these situations because the Earth is continuously emitting varying levels of radiation. Some types of rocks emit more than others, and when they are near or at Earth’s surface, they can cause spikes that could otherwise set off detectors and distract first responders. For example, the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., is made of granite in large quantities and emits enough radiation to merit Special mention In the radiation survey report for the 2009 presidential inauguration.

Map prepared by NNSA for the 2009 presidential inauguration.  pay attention
United States Department of Energy

In an AMS helicopter, two pilots fly the aircraft while a mission scientist and instrument operator monitor sensors and computers from behind. Fully loaded, the helicopter can fly for about two and a half hours before refueling. two pods hanging from the sides of the house Four sodium iodide sensor modules Which records gamma radiation once every second. The helicopter can also fly with a helium-3 sensor used to detect neutron radiation.

The entire AMS fleet consists of two Bell 412 helicopters and three Beechcraft BN-350 airplanes, split between Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

The Boston Marathon has become a high-security event ever since two domestic terrorists detonated a homemade pressure-cooker bomb at the finish line in 2013, killing three and injuring more than 250. The attack triggered a day-long search, which ended in a shootout near Watertown. While the AMS surveys may not detect the types of explosives used in the 2013 bombing, the surveys are part of a larger effort to secure the incident. The Commonwealth has designated the route as a “no drone zone” and police are deployed along the entire length of the race. Checkpoints are scattered in high-traffic areas where officers can search bags and coolers for weapons or explosives.

That might sound like a lot of security for a race, but very few people in the Boston area complain. I walked through the finish line area less than an hour before the 2013 bombings, and I went into hiding during the days-long lockdown of the latter. I still join the race to make runners happy, and every year, I’m glad to see federal and state law enforcement prepare for a range of potential events, no matter how far they seem.

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