IN Brief

U.S. Department of Energy helicopter measures radiation in advance of Indianapolis 500

By: - May 24, 2023 1:12 pm

The public may see a twin-engine Bell 412 helicopter, which is equipped with radiation sensing technology and operated by NEST’s Aerial Measuring System based at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. (Photo from U.S. Department of Energy)

If you see a low-flying object in the sky near Speedway this week, know it’s not a bird, plane or Superman — it’s actually a U.S. Department of Energy helicopter monitoring radiation in preparation for the Indianapolis 500. 

The department’s National Nuclear Security Administration is conducting the helicopter flights to measure background radiation. It’s a standard precaution to protect health and safety in advance of major events like presidential inaugurations and the Super Bowl. 

The flights will occur over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway complex and the surrounding area from May 25-28 according to a press release, although one helicopter has already been spotted. The race, which draws around 300,000 attendees each year, will take place May 29. 

The helicopters will fly in a grid at least 200 feet above the ground, reaching speeds of around 80 miles per hour. The flights will only occur during the day. 

The NNSA’s aerial measuring system dates back to 1958 and has been used to measure radiation from U.S. nuclear testing. In recent decades, the system has been used for rapid responses to radiological emergencies.


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Marissa Meador
Marissa Meador

Marissa studies political science and journalism at IU and has worked at the Indiana Daily Student as a news editor and reporter. At the IDS, she's covered city government and breaking news.