OS Flying Unit now in print

Our Flying Unit has been immortalised by the iconic Squadron Prints who produce the highly acclaimed series of aircraft and ship lithographic prints. One of the Cessna 404 Titan’s we use, G-FIFA, features on the stunning print.

Our Flying Unit operate from East Midlands Airport, taking to the skies above Great Britain between February and November each year. Professional pilots take our air camera operators up in two Cessna 404s, G-FIFA and G-TASK, to take aerial imagery of over 50,000 square kilometres of the country each season. From the Scilly Isles to the Shetland Islands, the team will capture over 140,000 aerial images each year, using the 196-megapixel cameras on-board the planes.

Looking at Birmingham Airport down the lens of the on-board camera

Flying aerial imagery means we can keep on top of the data capture process – making continuous revisions of the whole nation’s landscape, including Britain’s urban, rural, moorland and mountain terrain. This imagery is a key component in many of our mapping databases and products and it’s the essence of OS MasterMap Imagery Layer.

Getting aerial photography is obviously dependent on the weather and clearance from Air Traffic Control and we rely on making the most of any bright, clear days to enable us to collect data. The team of seven camera operators divide their time between field or remote sensing geospatial surveying, and their Flying Unit roles. They work on a rotation basis, being available seven days a week at the Flying Unit to ensure we capitalise on good weather windows.

Our Flying Unit

Our Flying Unit (left to right, but minus new member Jim in this photo) are Roger, Adrian, Andrew, Iain, Trevor and Stefan.

The history of aerial imagery at OS

The Squadron Prints are marking 50 years of OS having a Flying Unit, but did you know that we’ve been flying aerial imagery for around 100 years? During the First World War, OS surveyors were tasked with surveying and plotting trench lines – a difficult task in terrible circumstances. Aerial imagery gave a faster overview of the changing battlefields. It was originally flown by the RAF, up until the Second World War, when OS bought their own cameras and trained air camera operators. OS then used planes provided by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. As with the RAF, flying aerial imagery for OS was a secondary duty, so in 1966 the OS Flying Unit was formed, operating from Blackpool Airport.

Spotted a plane zig-zagging the skies? It could be OS surveying.

Aerial imagery or photo from the air?

If you follow us on Instagram, you may have seen us sharing photos which the team take whilst out and about above Britain. These are snaps the team take on their phones and cameras while they are in between surveying targets. These shots are different to our aerial imagery. Take a look below for a comparison.

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

A snap the team took over Cardiff Bay in 2015

Find out more about the Flying Unit

Find out more about the team and why they only fly between February and November.

Take a sneak peek at the team’s workstation in the skies.

Find out about how the team set up for the flying season.

See how aerial imagery flown by the team is used for 3D work at OS.

Win a Squadron Print of the OS Flying Unit

We have 25 of these fantastic prints to give away. All you need to do is correctly answer the three questions under these three photos taken by our Flying Unit. Post your answers on the blog by midnight on Thursday 31 August.

1. Name the town in the distance

2. Name the mountain in the foreground

3. Name the organisation based in this iconic building

Terms and conditions.

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39 Responses

  1. 1. The town in the distance is Newquay

    2. The mountain in the immediate foreground is Beinn a Chrulaiste showing the ridge dring away to the right to Stob Beinn a Chrulaiste. The MOuntains in the Mid Foreground is Stob Dearg and the Buachaille Etive Mor ridge.

    3. Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)

  2. David Gibson

    Answers to the questions to win a print of the OS flying unit.

    1. Newquay, Cornwall

    2. Buachaille Etive Mòr, in the Scottish Highlands

    3. Nickname is “The Doughnut” correct name is Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ.

  3. Elliott Hunston

    You mean, post it here, where everyone can see the answer?!

    I think they’re Buachaille Etive Mor, Nequay and GCHQ.

  4. John

    1. Newquay in Cornwall
    2. Buachaille Etive Mòr (consisting of Stob Dearg & Stob na Broige), unless you’re being sneaky and counting the ridge of Beinn a’Chrulaiste at the very bottom of the photo but I don’t think you’re that mean! 😉
    3. GCHQ

  5. Maya Russell

    1. Newquay, Cornwall
    2. The Buachaille (Buachaille Etive Mor), Highlands of Scotland
    3. GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) Cheltenham

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