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An exclusive look at tracking an invisible threat in Speedway

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Here’s an I-Team 8 exclusive on the effort to keep you safe at the Indianapolis 500.

That effort includes a low-flying helicopter tracking potential radiation around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

If there is a nuclear threat, law enforcement needs to know where radiation already exists in the area. We can’t see the radiation, but the instruments inside of a special Huey helicopter can. 

I-Team 8 got an exclusive trip inside. Flying at 80 mph and 150 feet off the ground, this radiation-detecting helicopter is mapping the radiation around Speedway. Chief Scientist Scott Suchyta earned his PhD in nuclear chemistry, and he is the one sitting in the back seat of the helicopter reading the results.

“That’s correct, We are looking at the background radiation. it is important to know what normal looks like, and that is really what we are doing. We are very sensitive. There are a lot of natural and man-made isotopes that we see, so medical procedures and industrial work. There are signatures that we see, so we want to look at that and know what all those regular signatures look like,” Suchyta said.

Anything radioactive will show up on a scanner-like device in the helicopter. A medical facility will look different than a construction site. A threat such as a dirty bomb would look much different that the surrounding area. 

Charles Mansfield is with the Department of Energy. He has decades of radiation detection work on his resume. I-Team 8 asked him if the equipment could detect a small homemade radioactive device. “It could depend on what the dirty bomb is shielded with or configuration or how much radioactivity is in the dirty bomb.” Mansfield said.

On Sunday, fans will not see the helicopter flying around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Department of Energy and other private contractors have SUVs equipped with radiation-detection devices.

Mansfield said, “I very seriously doubt that you will know if there is detection going on. It all depends on how overt the city of Indianapolis wants to be. Normally, with my organization, you would never know.”

I-Team 8 agreed not to show what the devices used on the ground look like.

The helicopter will continue to map background radiation in and around the track through Saturday.