Low-flying helicopters are expected over the Bay Area in the next week as part of a government program to measure radiation (file photo from August 2012). Photo: Jef Poskanzer
A low-flying helicopter is expected over the Bay Area in the next week as part of a government program to measure radiation (file photo from August 2012). Photo: Jef Poskanzer

Berkeley residents may see and hear a low-flying helicopter overhead on Wednesday as part of a federal program focused on measuring radiation levels.

According to a statement published by the city of Berkeley, the helicopter is expected to fly over San Francisco, Pacifica, Berkeley and Oakland between Tuesday, Sept. 1, and Sunday, Sept. 6.

The helicopter is slated to be in Berkeley on Wednesday, in both the morning and afternoon.

According to the city’s statement, the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Energy, including the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, are partnering on a program “to improve the U.S. government’s ability to detect nuclear and radiological material.” 

The program is focused on improving aerial radiological detection, in part by “equipping helicopters with sensors to detect radiation on the ground.” It is called the Airborne Radiological Enhanced-sensor System program.

Members of the community who were around in August 2012 may remember similar tests done at that time, which Berkeleyside reported. The National Nuclear Security Administration said in a statement at that time that “The helicopter will be taking measurements of naturally-occurring background radiation.”

Photo: National Nuclear Security Administration
Photo: National Nuclear Security Administration

According to the 2015 statement from the National Nuclear Security Administration, “A twin-engine Bell 412 helicopter, operated by the Remote Sensing Laboratory Aerial Measuring System in Las Vegas, Nevada, will be equipped with gamma radiation sensing technology. The helicopter will fly in a grid pattern over the area at 300 feet (or higher) above the ground surface, at a speed of approximately 80 miles per hour.”

Further, “The background data will be used by DNDO and NNSA to improve aerial radiation measurement capabilities used by local, state and federal entities.”

According to the city statement, additional information is forthcoming about the 2015 flyovers from the federal government, to include contact information for the project’s spokesperson.

The helicopter is scheduled to be in downtown San Francisco on Tuesday morning, and over San Francisco’s Presidio on Tuesday afternoon.

Wednesday, the helicopter is slated to be in Berkeley in the morning and afternoon.

Thursday morning, the helicopter is scheduled to be back in the Presidio. That afternoon, it is scheduled to be over Pacifica.

Friday morning, the helicopter is scheduled to fly over San Francisco’s Twin Peaks and Noe Valley neighborhoods.

No further information about the expected schedule was provided in the city of Berkeley’s statement.

According to the statement, “the flights are highly weather dependent and can only be flown in clear conditions.”

Established by Congress in 2000, the National Nuclear Security Administration “is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science.” The agency “maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.”

Berkeleyside will update this post if the Berkeley schedule changes, or if additional information is provided.

Low-flying helicopters over Berkeley are measuring radiation levels (08.29.12)
Medical helicopter lands in Berkeley’s San Pablo Park (08.27.15)
Helicopters near Berkeley? Police search underway (08.25.15)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...