Project Highlights:


  • Working with the world leading FAAM research aircraft facility.
  • Developing a new, cutting edge atmospheric observational capability.
  • Working with cutting edge instruments to develop an instrument with potentially global aircraft applications.


The NERC FAAM (Natural Environment Research Council. Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements) aircraft is a highly modified BAe-146 platform based at Cranfield University (see figure 1). It is part of the UK NCAS (National Centre for Atmospheric Science) provision of atmospheric observation assets for UK researchers to undertake airborne studies globally. It carries a wide range of instrumentation split broadly into two categories; core and non-core. Core instruments are routinely installed and operated by FAAM personnel. Non-core instruments are flown as part of campaigns globally (owned and operated by UK research partners). Instruments are installed in 19” aircraft racks. All instruments undergo extensive testing for use on the BAe-146 as part of a strict time and cost intensive certification process.

The X-rack is a FAAM initiative to allow testing of small footprint instruments on the BAe-146 with a reduced certification overheads. This is a custom built aircraft rack with generalised basic components pre-installed including data telemetry and power.

Regional carbon flux, key for climate studies, to the free atmosphere is often calculated using inversion modelling where near surface CO2 and CO concentrations are combined with models of atmospheric dynamics and transport. CO2:CO is used to improve inversion models. Aircraft platforms are ideal for collecting the physico-chemical data needed for inversion studies. The BAe-146 particularly so with its extensive observational payload including CO2 and CO. Other aircraft have the potential to gather this information but are limited by availability of suitable instrumentation.

This project proposes to develop a suite of relatively low-cost instruments for the measurement of CO2 and CO based on a miniaturised NDIR spectrometer and an array of electrochemical sensors for use on arrange of aircraft. It builds on existing Cranfield ground based NERC projects as well as a large scale balloon based instrumentation project which Cranfield is part of. This suite will be developed and validated on the BAe-146 X-rack as well as Cranfield University research aircraft with the aim of developing a stand-alone semi-autonomous generalised aircraft instrument for use globally especially on small aircraft platforms.


Figure 1: The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) aircraft.  A highly modified BAe-146 based at Cranfield University. https://www.faam.ac.uk.


This project aims to develop a miniaturised package of relatively low-cost instruments for the measurement of CO2 and CO. Two sensors have been selected for this; a miniaturised IR spectrometer (Sensair AB, Sweden) for CO2 and an electrochemical cell for CO (EC. Alphasense Ltd, UK). Both are relatively mature technologies which have been used in ground based applications and research projects.

In this project sensors will be incorporated into a miniaturised combined unit for testing in the X-rack. It is proposed that where possible the unit will be tested on Cranfield research aircraft. Where possible it will be tested against calibrated data from the existing core BAe-146 instruments taken during low level (<4km) portions of existing planned flying (Cranfield-based test flights or UK/overseas campaign flying time). The results will be used to develop a stand-alone semi-autonomous generalised aircraft instrument for use on other platforms such as other small aircraft platforms.

Training and Skills

Students will be able to take part in components of the Cranfield MSc provision. Particularly the “Atmospheric Emission Control and Technology” and “Atmospheric Informatics and Emissions Technology” MSc modules (each taking up to 5 days each) where available. 20 CTCs

2 day foundation course on atmospheric chemistry and composition provided by supervisory team or selected Cranfield research scientists. 4 CTCs

2 day foundation course on aircraft instrumentation provided by FAAM. 4 CTCs.

20 day work placement on the fundamentals of aircraft based observational systems and studies hosted by FAAM. 40 CTCs.

(The equivalent in-kind staff hours commitment from FAAM equates ~ £13K).


Year 1.

  • T1. Benchtop assembly build: Integration of NDIR sensor and electrochemical sensor (as an array of three electrochemical sensor slots) as a benchtop instrument package for ground based laboratory testing.

Year 2.

  • T2. Prototype development: Refined ground based laboratory testing of sensor assembly for ambient operation with a synthetic gas matrix in a range of environments.
  • T3. Prototype refinement for use on the BAe-146 aircraft (including discussion of airworthiness certification and associated interaction with BAe Systems specialists).
  • T4. Instrument validation and calculation of NDIR cell and EC sensor performance.

Year 3.

  • T5. In flight NDIR cell characterisation: observed transmission across selected wavelength band compared with the HITRAN database. Intrinsic instrument noise and signal/noise ratio of detection calculated.
  • T6. In flight NDIR cell and EC sensor characterisation across the expected aircraft parameter space in pressure, temperature and concentrations.
  • T7. Exploration of use of alternative EC cells sensitive to other species such as NOx and O3.
  • T8. Exploration of use of alternative NDIR cell sensitive to CH4.
  • T9. Instrument suite preparation for use on other aircraft platforms.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

NERC FAAM. UK Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements large Atmospheric Research Aircraft (ARA). Contact: Stephane Bauguitte. Chemistry specialist. sbau@nerc.ac.uk. https://www.faam.ac.uk

Sensair AB. Sweden. Leading sensor manufacturer for gas alarms, the transport sector and for indoor and outdoor air quality. Contact: Dr Hans Martin. Head of Research and Development. jrs@alphasense.com. https://senseair.com/

Alphasense Ltd. UK. Internationally leading sensor manufacturer for both industrial and ambient sensing. Primary contact: Dr John Saffell. Role: Technical Director. Email: jrs@alphasense.com. Website: http://www.alphasense.com/

Further Details

The student will be based at the Cranfield campus at Cranfield in Bedfordshire -  https://www.cranfield.ac.uk/About/How-to-find-Cranfield