Airborne Real-time Cueing Hyperspectral Enhanced Reconnaissance - Overview


ARCHER is a daytime non-invasive technology, which works by analyzing an object’s reflected light. It cannot detect objects at night, underwater, under dense cover, underground, under snow or inside buildings. The system uses a special camera facing down through a quartz glass portal in the belly of the aircraft, which is typically flown at a standard mission altitude of 2500 feet (800 meters) and 100 knots (50 meters/second) ground speed.

The system software was developed by Space Computer Corporation of Los Angeles, California and the system hardware is supplied by NovaSol Corp. of Honolulu, Hawaii specifically for CAP. The ARCHER system is based on hyperspectral technology research and testing previously undertaken by the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). CAP developed ARCHER in cooperation with the NRL, AFRL and the United States Coast Guard Research & Development Center in the largest interagency project CAP has undertaken in its 63-year history.

Since 2003, almost US$5 million authorized under the 2002 Defense Appropriations Act has been spent on development and deployment. As of January 2007, CAP reported completing the initial deployment of 16 aircraft throughout the U.S. and training over 100 operators, but had only used the system on a few search and rescue missions, and had not credited it with being the first to find any wreckage. In searches in Georgia and Maryland during 2007, ARCHER located the aircraft wreckage, but both accidents had no survivors, according to Col. Drew Alexa, director of advanced technology, and the ARCHER program manager at CAP. An ARCHER equipped aircraft from the Utah Wing of the Civil Air Patrol was used in the search for adventurer Steve Fossett in September 2007. ARCHER did not locate Mr. Fossett, but was instrumental in uncovering eight previously uncharted crash sites in the high desert area of Nevada, some decades old.

Col. Alexa described the system to the press in 2007: "The human eye sees basically three bands of light. The ARCHER sensor sees 50. It can see things that are anomalous in the vegetation such as metal or something from an airplane wreckage." Major Cynthia Ryan of the Nevada Civil Air Patrol, while also describing the system to the press in 2007, stated, "ARCHER is essentially something used by the geosciences. It's pretty sophisticated stuff … beyond what the human eye can generally see," She elaborated further, "It might see boulders, it might see trees, it might see mountains, sagebrush, whatever, but it goes 'not that' or 'yes, that'. The amazing part of this is that it can see as little as 10 per cent of the target, and extrapolate from there."

In addition to the primary search and rescue mission, CAP has also tested additional uses for ARCHER. For example, an ARCHER equipped CAP GA8 was used in a pilot project in Missouri in August 2005 to assess the suitability of the system for tracking hazardous material releases into the environment, and one was deployed to track oil spills in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita in Texas during September 2005.

Since then, in the case of a flight originating in Missouri, the ARCHER system proved its usefulness in October 2006, when it found the wreckage in Antlers, Okla. The National Transportation and Safety Board was extremely pleased with the data ARCHER provided, which was later used to locate aircraft debris spread over miles of rough, wooded terrain. In July 2007, the ARCHER system identified a flood-borne oil spill originating in a Kansas oil refinery, that extended downstream and had invaded previously unsuspected reservoir areas. The client agencies (EPA, Coast Guard, and other federal and state agencies) found the data essential to quick remediation. In September 2008, a Civil Air Patrol GA-8 from Texas Wing searched for a missing aircraft from Arkansas. It was found in Oklahoma, identified simultaneously by ground searchers and the overflying ARCHER system. Rather than a direct find, this was a validation of the system’s accuracy and efficacy. In the subsequent recovery, it was found that the ARCHER plotted the debris area with great accuracy.

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