Eye in the sky

The Aurora Australis in the pack ice, as viewed from a remotely piloted aircraft, or drone.
The Aurora Australis in the pack ice, as viewed from a remotely piloted aircraft, or drone. (Photo: Doug Thost)

24th November 2016

Remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), or drones as they are more commonly known, continue to illustrate their usefulness as an aid to ice navigation on Australia's icebreaker the Aurora Australis.

After successful proof-of-concept flights last season, the Australian Antarctic Division is looking to build capacity in this rapidly evolving technology, and deployed a drone on the current voyage resupplying Davis research station to continue to evaluate its use in an operational setting. 

As the Aurora Australis makes its way back towards Australia, voyage leader Lloyd Symons said the RPA, piloted by Doug Thost of Helicopter Resources, made several flights, providing a unique view of the ship surrounded by the sea ice.

"Using the drone at up to 1000 feet above the ship with a live high definition video feed to the bridge, we were able to spot open water on the horizon that was invisible from ship level, " he said.

"We were also able to launch and recover the drone while the ship was still moving through the ice, which saves us considerable time. And of course, it eliminates the expense and risk associated with launching helicopters from the vessel, so it's clearly the way of the future."

The use of drones by Australians in Antarctica is regulated by CASA, and is also subject to permits under environmental legislation specific to Antarctica.

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