Usually manned and unmanned aircraft don’t fly in close proximity for very good reason, but we were granted an exemption on Tuesday, April 9th 2019. As part of a joint Headwall and NEON (National Ecological Observatory Network, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and operated by Battelle) project, a Headwall drone and a DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter, one of the NEON Airborne Observation Platforms (AOPs), where flown simultaneously in controlled airspace within a short drive of the University of Colorado – Boulder.
On Tuesday morning, my Headwall colleagues, Dr. Will Rock, Application Scientist, and Charles Kepler, Chief UAV Pilot, and I set up a field station for controlling our turnkey hyperspectral imaging (HSI) & LiDAR UAV platform, while a Battelle crew including John Adler and Alok Shrestha working for NEON, and Joe McGlinchy with the Earth Lab prepped their aircraft from a nearby runway.
With beautiful weather and mostly sunny skies, the Headwall drone and NEON AOP flew over the same terrain. As much as possible, given the difference in airspeed and altitude, both aircraft together. The Headwall drone was equipped with a lightweight, state-of-the-art payload with a co-aligned VNIR-SWIR HSI sensor & LiDAR. The NEON AOP flew with a similar sensor package but optimized for the higher speeds and higher altitudes that manned aircraft need to maintain.
Over the next few days, we will be analyzing the data gathered by both platforms. Manned aircraft have the benefit of much longer flight time, but drones can fly much lower for higher spatial resolution. It will be interesting to see the benefits and tradeoffs for remote-sensing researchers and commercial customers. If you’d like to learn more about this project, don’t hesitate to reach out to Headwall.
A 66-degree drop in temperature, along with a blizzard, caused our planned flight demo on Wednesday to be cancelled, However, we still had a great crowd for the hyperspectral seminar in the afternoon. Will did a great job in our seminar room on the U Colorado – Boulder campus, introducing guests in person and online to HSI & LiDAR remote sensing for mineral prospecting and mining applications, and even doing a hands-on demo of our compact HSI scanning kit. See a recording of his presentation.
I’d like to thank John Adler, Joe McGlinchy, Brian Johnson of Charlie Kepler and Will Rock along with the NEON and Earth Lab teams for their generosity and hard work making this event possible. It’s not every day that you get to see a drone and manned aircraft flying around the same area! We’re all looking forward to hearing from folks who are currently utilizing remote sensing or are considering the technique, especially the turnkey HSI & LiDAR platform that Headwall is uniquely offering on a lightweight drone.