Behind the scenes in the Flying Unit

We often share the photos taken by our Flying Unit in between their surveying tasks. And you’ll have seen the aerial imagery they take when surveying from the skies. But have you ever wondered what it’s like to do your daily work in the back of a Cessna 404? Roger Nock, one of our Flying Unit, took a photo of his workspace. Take a look.

Roger explained what we can see…

This is my usual setup, but for other operators it may look different as we all have our own way of working. I’ll explain the view from left to right. The screen on the left is our computer display screen. We sometimes call is a ‘COS’ screen. Using the blue buttons on the panel and the keyboard next to it we can change the manual functions on the camera, such as shutter speeds and focal lengths. The screen gives us a continuous view of exposure levels via the red and green bar and also gives us a view of the photograph we have taken.  The main (larger) image square on the screen is the quick view (black and white) thumbnail which we can check for haze levels and cloud – including smoke from fires or chimneys. The images to the right of this are thumbnails of each of the eight lenses. These ensure all lenses fired correctly. We get around three seconds to quality control the image before the next one appears.

The big silver box is the computer system. On it are two 3Tb data units. One is used for recording and one is for backing up. They weigh around 25kg and often need to be swapped around during any in-flight trouble-shooting.

Sitting on the computer is an iPad.  This is used as a visual check and further planning.  As it is GPS-enabled we can see which flying targets are nearby and how they relate to any clear weather in the area.  It is also used for documenting features of our sortie in a sortie report for the imagery processing stage back at head office.

On my lap, centre, is a latest copy of the CAA air chart for the area. This can be used to aid the pilot. In free airspace other aircraft may be relaying their position to air traffic via features on the chart. This can give us an overview of where other aircraft are operating.  It can also help in understanding what airfields/frequencies are nearby and which airspace may be restricted.

On the right, the laptop is used to interact with our pre-produced flight planning software. The flight lines we have planned are selectable. This initiates the camera (not in view). This allows us to check how far on or off the flight line the aircraft is. We also have lots of information which allows us to see if all the systems are working correctly and it contains useful information for the pilot. Another screen (just over the top right of the laptop) is the pilot’s display, whatever line I choose appears on this display and accurately predicts an optimum track to the pilot to take. As the pilot is busy flying, trying to keep on line and talk to air traffic control, we are also listening carefully to air traffic in case any communications are missed and look out for other aircraft nearby.

The laptop is fixed onto a mount which is attached to our iron sight. This is a relic from film camera days but still very useful for seeing what the upcoming weather is like. On clear days we can get in excess of 50 miles of forward view.  If there was cloud ahead we get plenty of advanced warning and can then possibly plan to tackle other targets.

Finally….the blue box in the middle….they are my Jaffa Cakes. We quite often take snacks aboard.  Sometimes we take off expecting to be back on the ground in two hours, but if the weather clears up, we can be up for as long as nine hours.  So if you’ve not brought along your packed lunch you start to get hungry.

So there you have it – a workspace with a difference. You can find out more about the Flying Unit here.

Orkney, snapped by the team

Aerial imagery taken by the on-board camera, showing St Peter’s Square, Manchester

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