Prof. John B went to Palmerston North last week to conduct acceptance flights of AUT's new Swampfox UAV.

The Fox is totally New Zealand designed and built - the airframe was designed by Skycam UAV Ltd. in conjunction with the University of Queensland, the autopilot was designed by the New Zealand Defence Technology Agency, and the whole aircraft and systems were constructed Skycam UAV.  The Fox is a flying wing configuration, rather than a conventional wings plus tailplane combination.

Dr. Tim Brooks with the Swampfox

As usual for this time of year, the Manawatu weather was unreliable and rain was forecast for the whole week.  However, carpe diem!  Monday dawned cloudy and a bit windy, but Prof. John B and Dr. Tim Brooks of Skycam packed the control vehicle and headed out to Mangahao in the Wairarapa to fly in Danger Area 522, which allows Beyond Visible Line of Sight (BVLS) flights up to 2500ft AMSL (approximately 2000ft AGL).

After assembly, which is very straightforward, Tim demonstrated the launch procedure.  The Fox can be operated from the same GCS as our Hawk, but the launch handling is a little different.  After pre take-off checks are complete, the Fox is attached to the bungee catapult and the Operator enters the Take-off command into the GCS computer.  In contrast to the Hawk, the motor does not immediately start, which is initially a bit disconcerting.  This is actually a good thing, because the Handler holds the Fox by the trailing edges, which places a very large propeller right between the wrists!  When the aircraft is released, the accelerometers in the autopilot sense the launch and the motor is turned on.  Rate of climb is around 700fpm.  Prof. John B did the second launch; the aircraft is 'bounced' on the catapult and released at the top of the bounce, so that the Fox is pointing about 15 degrees above horizontal. 

We had fitted two Sony NEX5-N cameras into the sensor cassette and during the two flights totalling about 50 minutes, we took around 3200 high resolution photographs, half in RGB, the other half in nIR.  These will be processed with Pix4UAV software and will be a little bonus for the farmer - we will provide the orthomosaics to the farmer.  It appears that the areas of grass grub infestation show up very well in these images.

Recovery of the UAV was straightforward - after the Return command was entered, the Fox returned to the launch point; Landing Mode 4 entered commanded the aircraft to descend to 150ft AGL and fly upwind before releasing the parachute.  The parachute allows the UAV to land upside down, thus protecting the sensor window and the winglets.

The remainder of the week was far too windy and wet for further flights, though we did go out again on Tuesday and did some ground testing of the video downlink on the Hawk.

The next time the Fox flies, it will probably be in Antarctica - the UAS is on its way to Christchurch now for transport to the ice.