How OS’s Flying Unit keeps the map of Britain up to date from 10,000 feet

2 minute read
As the national mapping service of Great Britain, Ordnance Survey (OS) oversees the largest and most authoritative geospatial database in the world. Since 1791 OS has captured and maintained this database which now contains over half a billion geographic features and is updated over 20,000 times a day.

This OS data is now so ubiquitous that it underpins the apps on our phones to the gas, water and electricity in our homes, our home deliveries, our broadband services, and all of the essential public services we rely on like the emergency services, public transport and waste collection. In fact, it is estimated that every adult in Great Britain interacts with OS location data an average of 42 times a day.

However, what is less well known, and rarely seen by the public, is the 6-person OS Flying Unit that criss-crosses the country from March to November every year. The OS air camera operators use high resolution cameras to survey the nation in meticulous detail from their unique vantage point.

The latest flying season has drawn to a close and this year the OS Flying Unit, based at Retford (Gamston) Airport in Nottinghamshire, have flown 96,270 square KMs. An increase of 12,270 square KMs compared to last year.

From the Isles of Scilly to the Shetlands, all of Britain’s natural and built environment is refreshed within three years from the air by OS. But as OS mapping is relied on by emergency services and critical infrastructure, some changes, or ‘bespoke targets’, need updating more quickly. The 2022 flying season saw 255 ‘bespoke targets’ captured, including the route of the HS2 line, new sporting venues, train stations, housing estates and bypasses.

To find out more about the OS Flying Unit and see some of the team that makes all of this possible, you can watch this short film.

By Press Office

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