With the cost of fuel adding to the other costs of operating aircraft more and more efforts are being made to find efficiencies in aircraft operation. One of the latest is to replace aerial survey aircraft used to collect date over farmland to assist farmers in deciding how much fertilizer to use on their crops.
In the United Kingdom a project is underway to operate UAVs over farmland to collect this date and reduce both the cost of manned aerial collection aircraft and traffic in the busy skies over England. An unmanned 16 pound aircraft with a wingspan of 7' was used recently to evaluate farmland over fields in England and Wales while evaluating the nitrogen levels in soil in an effort to determine whether fertilizer was needed.
This unique UAV is preprogrammed to operate over the area of interest, is battery powered and can remain airborne for about one hour. While it receives no input from humans during the flight the on board program can be overridden and control assumed by UAV operators on the ground.
The data sent down from the UAV was used to build up a Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) for the surveyed land. "It tells you the difference between 'green crops' that are photosynthesizing and bare ground," explained Alan Gay, a senior research scientist at Aberystwyth University. The more dense the crop, the less fertilizer you need to apply."
Other uses for these aircraft would be to determine grazing areas for sheep and other livestock, along with gathering more data to assist farmers in increasing crop productivity and management. The use of such aircraft will eventually extend to gather real measurements of disease in crops and the management of forests.
As pilots we see the march towards more and more UAVs and can only wonder how long before unmanned commercial airliners can be far behind? The original thought has been it might start with cargo aircraft, but it seems much more likely to continue with the development of data gathering such as aerial fire patrols over forests first. But without a doubt the march towards using more and more UAVs is underway.
Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!