This paper describes an experiment which was performed using an offshore transport helicopter to investigate the impact of the rotor blades upon Global Positioning System (GPS) reception.
The test aircraft was fitted with two separate GPS antennas which were positioned to isolate the effects caused by the main and tail rotors. Testing was undertaken with the aircraft on the ground and this allowed an assessment to be performed at different rotor speeds with accurate control over the relative geometry between the antenna, rotors and satellites.
Recorded data from a measurement system incorporating three dissimilar GPS receivers (including a technical standard order (TSO)-C129() compliant aviation unit and a custom research receiver) was analysed to identify the effect of the rotors at the correlator level and to determine the impacts upon ranging accuracy, the availability of ranging measurements, and the receivers’ signal level estimates.
Correlation data was used to demonstrate that the rotor blades were capable of generating both destructive and constructive interference effects, and the periodic nature of these oscillations was shown to correspond directly to the blade passing frequency. It was identified that signal degradation was not limited to satellite signal paths which intersected the rotor discs.
No evidence was found for any increase in code measurement error due to the rotor interference, but it was demonstrated that there could be a significant impact upon a receiver’s ability to maintain continuous tracking of the satellite signals. The overall effect of this availability problem for a given installation and type of operation will be dependent upon satellite geometry and other factors which are beyond the scope of this study.
The ability of a receiver to identify the presence of rotor interference was investigated by examining estimates of carrier-to-noise, and this revealed inconsistencies between the results from different receivers implying differences in the estimation algorithms employed. It was also identified that two alternative ‘textbook’ estimators do not give identical results in the presence of rotor interference and it is suggested that such data should therefore be interpreted with caution.