Pioneering steps into fixed wing - water landing drones in marine ecology

Melissa Schiele, MSc student from Imperial College London, joined the 2018 May expedition to the British Indian Ocean Territory to use fixed wing amphibious drones to look at megafauna distribution across the Chagos Archipelago. @explorer_mel

 

By Melissa Schiele, MSc   July 8th, 2018

I was thrilled when Dr Tom Letessier from ZSL chose me to help with his drone research as part of the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science. To our knowledge, no one had a fixed-wing water landing drone. Our plan was to survey some of the islands of the Chagos Archipelago to compare distributions of megafauna around islands with birds nesting on them to islands with invasive rats on them.  The drones were amphibious Aeromapper Talons manufactured by Aeromao Inc., in Canada.

The use of UAVs (Unmanned aerial vehicles), or drones, is gaining traction in the world of ecology and conservation. In marine environments, drones are being tested for their ability to locate megafauna and map areas. Initial results have been promising across the board and many are looking to drones (of all types) to bridge the gap between ground truthing surveys (diving transects etc) and large-scale plane based surveys, which cover thousands of kilometres.

At the end of April 2018, I flew out to Canada to learn how to fly our new drones with Aeromao, the company that created our waterproofed fixed wing drone capable of flying huge distances with the strength, stability and mechanisms of a small plane. With a two-meter wingspan, the units look impressive. After a week of training and our first successful water landing on Lake Erie, I packed up the two drones and flew from Toronto to the Maldives.

After a tense few days waiting for customs to release our drones, one hour before departure, they arrived on board our research vessel and we steamed to the Chagos Archipelago. Our first deployment and retrieval was a success and we captured our first aerial footage. Our drones have two cameras on board; one on the belly of the fuselage takes snaps every second and one in the clear nose cone that allows for live streaming of the drone flight to a screen used by the drone pilot. The images that we took have proved our original concept worked and we were able to pin point sharks, birds and large fishes.

To read the full article: https://www.zsl.org/blogs/chagos-expedition/project-drone-pioneerin...

About the Aeromapper Talon Amphibious

The Amphibious version of the Aeromapper Talon allows maritime operations by autonomously belly landing on water.

Views: 1191

Comment by Sergiu on February 5, 2019 at 2:54am

Hello,

AeroVironment Puma is landing in water since January 2009.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2juPSfC2Xk

Regards,

Sergiu

Comment by Andreas Gazis on February 5, 2019 at 5:50am

The research looks awesome. I shudder to ask about the price tag. MRO have blogged about an oceanography oriented Talon mini which they seem to sell for 500 USD. Granted, it's the mini and doesn't land on water but it can handle the winds, go out to 3km and back and I 'm sure it can't be that hard to land a mini on pretty much anything (and if you fail to land it elegantly, it won't make such a huge hole in your budget).

Comment by Mauricio on February 5, 2019 at 3:42pm

@Sergiu

Yes, we all know the Puma lands on water as well.

The difference between the two is that the AMTalon Amphibious carries two sets of cameras, has a link range of +30Km, and costs less than $15K USD. Puma is a military UAV, therefore pretty restricted and much more expensive. Not suitable for civilian commercial markets.

Comment by Curt Olson on February 8, 2019 at 5:09am

In a past life I helped with a marine uav project.  I'm curious if you have any observations on how well the waterproofing works on this aircraft?  Can it carry and protect a larger camera (like a digital mirrorless type?)  How many dunks in saltwater can the motor handle before it needs replacement?  Are there any problems with water leaking inside or corroding connectors?
My project involved a larger flying wing ... one advantage was that it was easier to waterproof (by design), but it became quite difficult to launch when fully loaded.  I love how easy the talon is to hand launch from anywhere ... especially if you have a bit of a breeze.  I work at the U of MN UAV lab now and we have a couple Talon's we've built up for a few of our projects.  They are great utility planes.
Good luck with your project!  Please continue to share picts and results!

Comment by Mauricio on February 8, 2019 at 10:02am

Curt,

waterproofing works perfect on our UAV.  The photo below may answer the question better!

as part of our quality control the UAV can be submerged into water and launched after. Even in the case water gets in, all electronic components, including connectors are either protected or marine grade. It is meant to use in marine environment.

Motor is treated with some anticorrossive, but for longer life needs to be washed with fresh water.

For the moment no mirrorless cameras are being used, rather waterproof cameras (for both nadir and forward looking).

Connectors are waterproof, the can be submerged with no water intrusion.

Thanks a lot for your comments and wishes!  we'll continue sharing surely!

Comment by Curt Olson on February 8, 2019 at 10:20am

Cool, yes, you really need to be able to submerge the plane because it will get splashed by big waves, flipped upside down by the wind, will get run over by your boat, and every other possible thing you could imagine will happen.  Our plane had a "water proof" center section to hold a mirrorless camera with fancy lens, but it was never perfectly waterproof.  I found that operating off a ship made everything 10x harder, not to mention never feeling 100%  Here's a quick little video of our system (shot flying over a small lake in AK in september.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbt-WKgmAIM

Comment by Jay Case on February 8, 2019 at 10:36pm

May I ask how you water proof the pitot tube/airspeed sensor? Also if the plane is sealed what do you do about the barometer maintain correct altitude?

Comment by Jay Case on February 15, 2019 at 6:37pm

I assume then that you replace the pitot tube each water landing.

Comment by Mauricio on February 16, 2019 at 10:15am

@Crut, after landing on open ocean in winds in excess of 40km/h the drone can stay floating indefinitely and no swell or wind will flip it over, even in in very large swells. WE have experienced this already in +three dozen landings on the ocean and never have had a problem.

About airspeed sensor: we initially thought on installing a check valve, but after many tests and real ops. We found it is not necessary. Even after repeatedly simulating hard nose landings on the water, pitot submersion,  and pouring buckets of water we couldn't get water reach the airspeed sensor board.

As a precaution, the tubing is long and pigtailed, so in case of water ingestion it will get "trapped" in the loops. The lines can be cleared blowing from the inside out, which is done after every water landing regardless.

Comment by Curt Olson on February 16, 2019 at 11:43am

We had a similar experience with the pitot tube as well.  A bit surprising maybe, but the water has trouble forcing it's way very far in.  Our experience with flipping upside down was in about 25kt winds and fairly heavy swells was our flying wing (that sits much lower in the water than a talon) got flipped over a couple times.  Great to hear it hasn't happened to you yet, but it probably will sooner or later.  Every possible challenging thing that could happen will happen out on the open ocean!  We spent about 2 weeks out at sea and it was enough to give me a tremendous respect for those that are out there working every day.

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