Taking advantage of a visit to the old homestead, Prof. John B. was able to spend two days training with Skycam UAV systems engineer, Dr. Tim Brooks.

Using our own unique ground control station, we prepared one of the Skycam test aircraft.  It's been a long time since our ground school, but working through the checklist, it all came back.

We were in D522, the Skycam UAV testing area, where we could fly up to 2500 feet and out of visual contact.  This danger area was the subject of a NOTAM; before the first flight and at intervals, we broadcast a warning to general aviation that Skycam was conducting unmanned aircraft operations.  As the aircraft headed off, following its pre-programmed flightpath, it was rather scary, but Tim wanted me to experience the feelings when the aircraft disappears from sight and you are totally dependent on the autopilot, telemetry and video downlink.

On the first day, we did two flights of around 50 minutes each.  The Hawk sensor bay was fitted with a GoPro.  This camera has a wide angle lens and can record about an hour of HD video. Our other sensors - Sony NEX5-N, Mintron 2-axis video and FLIR - will produce much flatter, less distorted images.

After launch, the Hawk circled the launch point at 850ft agl until commanded to fly to the quarry (see previous post).  The altitude was reset to 1100 ft and the Hawk flew to the quarry.  Then I followed a river to a new waypoint, using the computer to designate intermediate points.  After approximately 40 minutes, the Hawk was commanded to return to the launch point, where we reset altitude in decreasing steps, until we initiated the automatic landing mode (engine off, parachute deployed).  At this point, a thermal kicked off and the Hawk landed rather further away from the GCS than we would have liked.

After a battery change and new checklist, we flew for another 45 minutes.

The following day, the conditions were again ideal for flying and I was put through many of the procedures required to conduct flights and aerial data collection - handle launch, check footprint of stills camera, plan track to acquire a series of stills on a transect etc.  Finally, taking control of the Hawk in heading stabilised mode, I brought the aircraft down over the GCS, killed the throttle and deployed the parachute.  The Hawk landed 30 metres away from the GCS.

I have rather crudely edited a small composite video to show launch, flight and recovery phases.  The video is highly compressed to make it manageable for the Internet, but I think it shows clearly the potential of the Hawk for monitoring plants and animals.  The GoPro picked up quite a lot of motor and servo noise from the Hawk, but on the ground it is almost impossible to hear the aircraft as it flies overhead.

We also appear to have shown that the Earth is spherical and really quite small!

I have several times tried without success to upload the video clip mentioned above.  You can see it at: