05 January 2015

Trevor Bland's Funeral

A funeral service for Trevor Bland, the founding president of New Zealand Warbirds Association, was held on Christmas Eve at Ardmore. The aviation fraternity gave the well known aviator a fitting send off, with the DC3, P-51 and five ship Harvard formation flying several high speed low passes over the airfield early afternoon.

A biography of TT's life, 'Rags to Rivets' can be purchased from flyingbooks.co.nz

22 December 2014

Wrapping up the Year

2014 has definitely been the most enjoyable of the last few years that I've been fortunate enough to be employed as a pilot, with the move up from single engine jumper-dumpers to a twin engine aerial photography role, along with the relocation back to an Auckland base.

Throughout the last 10 months with my current company, I've flown sorties all over the country, with jobs ranging from Northland down to Canterbury, and everywhere in between. The day to day variety is the main factor that keeps my enthusiasm for flying renewed, with a different view out the window and new airports to land at each flight.

The majority of our contracts come from the aggregate industry, requiring regular flights overhead quarry sites as their physical dimensions change on a monthly basis. Other large scale industrial projects such as canal construction, pipeline construction, tidal sandbank evaluations and highway modifications have required large areas of top down photographic coverage. We fly these at a variety of altitudes, with a single flight line at around 3000 feet AGL for the smaller sites, up to large scale grids at 9000 feet AGL, with the runs all plugged into a GPS mounted on the yoke then flown by hand.

My boss also took delivery of a high end quad-rotor UAV later in the year which I've been trained to use and have been flying commercially for the company in a similar manner to the aeroplane, all be it on a smaller scale at low levels. The drone is controlled from a tablet style interface, with flight line grids easily placed over the top of existing aerial photos of the area, and it's on board camera then able to capture and compile high quality up to date imagery for the client. Once downloaded and imported into the accompanying software, this can generate digital 3D models and be used to calculate volumes, dimensions and distances, and is often used for stockpile sites to ensure the sites actual production is matching the companies forecasts.

I also get employed to assist during ground level surveys, collecting GPS 'control' co-ordinates off certain road markings, or custom made wooden crosses around the perimeter of the area we are planning to fly, that are easily visible from the air. Once we have flown the area and photographed it, this survey data can be used to tie the imagery with an exact latitude, longitude and elevation, down to an accuracy of around 1cm in most cases. Thanks to this necessary requirement for each new location that hasn't been flown previously by our company, I get to do a fair bit of exploring off the beaten track to places that I most likely would have never visited otherwise, and it's always surprising just how different the terrain can look from ground level compared to out the cockpit window!

To finish off the year, I've assembled my a collection of snaps taken on the job since March, both from the ground and from the sky. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to visit the blog, and all those who have taken the time to comment or get in touch. Enjoy the Christmas break if you get one, see you in 2015!

Pacific Coast Views

At the beginning of last week, a large anticyclone was covering the South Island and created perfect weather for an aerial photography job waiting to be flown near NZCH. I took the 310 down from Ardmore to Christchurch IFR on the Monday, and enjoyed some stunning views along the way:

A cloudless Cook Straight
Marlborough Sounds
'Big Lagoon' and the Awatere Valley
The Kaikoura coastline
A few specs of snow left on the Kaikoura Ranges
Kaikoura Peninsula
A few days later up in the Northern Canterbury foothills
The Hurunui River, nearby Lake Taylor

14 November 2014

Aerial Photography

It isn't just about taking pictures whilst flying! There's plenty more to the job than that, and I've been intrigued to learn about all sorts of post processing applications of the top-down imagery captured whilst on photography operations over the last nine months at my current employer.

I've been given permission to share the following output files from a recent flight over White Island, off the coast of the Bay of Plenty. I flew directly overhead the steaming crater at 6000 feet, whilst the camera operator in the rear of the aircraft shot a line of overlapping images through a special hatch in the floor. After landing, the film roll then got sent away, processed and returned to our head office a few days later ready to be scanned in at an extraordinary high resolution digital format for further analysis. Once on the in house computer system, this allows for the generation of simple .JPEG previews of individual frames if required, scaled down from several gigabytes to just 1 megabyte in this 1000 pixels wide example:

Next is where the real magic happens. I don't understand the process completely, but my novice attempt at an explanation goes as follows: The scale of the aerial photographs get geometrically corrected to remove angular distortions and the vertical variations from the topography underneath. The resulting flattened orthograph can then be used to accurately measure distances, depths and volumes relative to known GPS points on a countrywide database. The clever software it gets fed into reads thousands of X,Y and Z coordinates from the photography data, and is then able to create three dimensional 'point cloud' reconstructions of the terrain that was below the flight path. This quick video that I put together on one of the work computers this morning, showcases the interesting volcanic landscape from the above picture set, comprising of over 12 million separate data points. The accuracy achieved to display each individual contour like this is fascinating to me!

13 November 2014

Rangitoto Airspace Closed

With heads of state from Canada, Chile, and Germany in town, a temporary restricted area around Rangitoto Island and Motutapu Island has coincidently been NOTAM'ed for tomorrow. NZR193 is active between 1400 and 1530 hours local on Friday 14 November 2014. No low level buzzes over the crater in the afternoon!