Articles | Volume 7, issue 11
Research article
06 Nov 2014
Research article |  | 06 Nov 2014

Rapid, optical measurement of the atmospheric pressure on a fast research aircraft using open-path TDLAS

B. Buchholz, A. Afchine, and V. Ebert

Abstract. Because of the high travel speed, the complex flow dynamics around an aircraft, and the complex dependency of the fluid dynamics on numerous airborne parameters, it is quite difficult to obtain accurate pressure values at a specific instrument location of an aircraft's fuselage. Complex simulations using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) models can in theory computationally "transfer" pressure values from one location to another. However, for long flight patterns, this process is inconvenient and cumbersome. Furthermore, these CFD transfer models require a local experimental validation, which is rarely available.

In this paper, we describe an integrated approach for a spectroscopic, calibration-free, in-flight pressure determination in an open-path White cell on an aircraft fuselage using ambient, atmospheric water vapour as the "sensor species". The presented measurements are realised with the HAI (Hygrometer for Atmospheric Investigations) instrument, built for multiphase water detection via calibration-free TDLAS (tunable diode laser absorption spectroscopy). The pressure determination is based on raw data used for H2O concentration measurement, but with a different post-flight evaluation method, and can therefore be conducted at deferred time intervals on any desired flight track.

The spectroscopic pressure is compared in-flight with the static ambient pressure of the aircraft avionic system and a micro-mechanical pressure sensor, located next to the open-path cell, over a pressure range from 150 to 800 hPa, and a water vapour concentration range of more than 3 orders of magnitude. The correlation between the micro-mechanical pressure sensor measurements and the spectroscopic pressure measurements shows an average deviation from linearity of only 0.14% and a small offset of 9.5 hPa. For the spectroscopic pressure evaluation we derive measurement uncertainties under laboratory conditions of 3.2 and 5.1% during in-flight operation on the HALO airplane. Under certain flight conditions we quantified, for the first time, stalling-induced, dynamic pressure deviations of up to 30% (at 200 hPa) between the avionic sensor and the optical and mechanical pressure sensors integrated in HAI. Such severe local pressure deviations from the typically used avionic pressure are important to take into account for other airborne sensors employed on such fast flying platforms as the HALO aircraft.