OS Flying Team keep mapping Britain’s changes

As Britain’s mapping agency we’re keeping track of half a billion geospatial features across the country and making tens of thousands of changes daily. We have over 200 surveyors on the ground and aircraft who survey from the skies to ensure we have the latest data ready for our customers. Our Flying Team were already prepared for some changes in 2020 as they were moving base and flying in new aircraft with new cameras, but Covid-19 had a bigger impact. Find out how the team have been working in 2020.

Aerial view of London with Buckingham Palace, the London Eye and the Thames

London from the air during lockdown in 2020

The Flying Team are usually in the skies above Britain from March to early November each year, using the aircraft and high-resolution cameras to survey about a third of Britain, that’s  around 80,000 km2 of imagery data and over 100,000 individual images.

New base and aircraft

For the 2020 season, the team are flying from a new base, Retford (Gamston) Airport in Nottinghamshire. It’s a great location to fly to both the North of Scotland and down to the South West of Britain, and quite a change from working at our previous base in East Midlands Airport which is a large cargo hub and holiday gateway. Read More


A glimpse into the role of an OS surveyor

From the Isle of Arran to Cornwall, our field surveyors are working hard throughout Great Britain come rain or shine. As we did back in August, we want to share a glimpse into how our 200+ surveyors feed in to the 20,000 changes we make to our database every single day. Alongside our surveyors, we have two aircraft and an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) team working to keep our database up to date. 

We asked a handful of surveyors about their latest jobs, and they didn’t disappoint. We have everything from Strawberry Field in Liverpool to a new state-of-the-art events venue in Aberdeen.

From Cambridge…

Tim Glasswell surveyed Europe’s first eco-friendly mosque in Cambridge. With a near-zero carbon footprint, this purpose-built mosque is the epitome of sustainability.

First eco-friendly mosque.

Eco-friendly mosque

…to Liverpool

Liverpool-based field surveyor Christopher Robinson found himself on the site of Strawberry Field. Previously the site of a Salvation Army children’s home and made famous by The Beatles hit Strawberry Fields Forever, in September of this year it opened to the public for the first time. Dodging some tourists, Christopher surveyed the new café, meditation rooms and community space – he even found a benchmark!

Surveyor at site of Strawberry Field.

Strawberry Field

From indoor arenas…

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How we use 3D height data at OS

Guest blog by OS Surveyor Lee Harvey.

Imagine you’re buying a new house and are worried about the risk of flooding. Or you’re installing a mobile network, such as 5G, and want to know where to place transmitters. You’ll need to know the shape of the ground, buildings blocking line of sight, where will water flow, and a host of other things. OS create a set of 3D height products as well as our 2D maps and data.

Remote Sensing at OS is a big thing. The team spends Spring and Summer (when the weather is better… apparently!) flying up and down Great Britain capturing aerial imagery. These images are used to update our maps quickly and efficiently at head office in Southampton. By taking many overlapping images and using some air triangulation software (that’s the maths of measuring angles from the air), we match these images to their real-world location and work out the height of features on the ground. The software takes these height points and constructs a Digital Surface Model (DSM), which also forms the basis of our orthorectified imagery (a top-down perspective, map-like image). The DSM data includes buildings, trees, bridges and anything which exists at the time the photos are taken. A video game is a good example, as you move your character through any 3D environment, the hard surface that the game graphics display, will be draped over a DSM (although it’s called a Mesh in the 3D graphics industry, the fundamentals are the same). To complement this surface, and to allow lots of clever analysis of the real world, we also create a Digital Terrain Model (DTM). Read More


Meet the team: Mark Cuthbert

Continuing our series to introduce you to the people within OS and share the range of work we do, meet Mark Cuthbert. As a Senior Production Manager, here he gives us a glimpse into his ever-changing role… 

How long have you worked for OS?

32 years. I started as a Survey Technician when I was 17 and spent the next 12 years surveying. My surveying career progressed to Mapping and Charting Officer, Surveyor, and then Senior Surveyor. 

I then spent 3 years as a Production Group Manager before almost 10 years as a Region Manager across 3 regions. I also became part of the OS national coaching network. Read More


Surveying coastal changes by drone 

Most of us are aware that Britain’s coastlines are constantly changing with erosion and landslides and we’ve blogged before about how our data is being used to predict future changes to the Scottish coastline. One challenge is capturing the changes quickly and ensuring our data reflects the current coastline. 

Drone footage from the Norfolk coast after a recent landslide

A recent landslide on the Norfolk coast at Sidestrand demonstrated the benefit of drone use to capture change. Footage of the cliff fall was captured by a member of the public and James Morrison from our Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) teamworked with our Norfolkbased surveyor Jez Hull, to respond quickly.    Read More


Spring is in the air and so is our Flying Unit!

Based out of East Midlands airport, our team are getting to grips with some new technology and a new aircraft for the 2019 flying season, which runs from the end of February to the end of October.  

This year, were excited to be adding two Vexcel Mark 3 UltraCam Eagle cameras and a Pressurised Beechcraft B200 King Air aircraft to our kit! In a bid to capture more imagery than ever before and to test efficiency with flights, the new cameras and plane are being flown higher and at faster speeds.

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Meet the team: Dave Tucker

Continuing our series to introduce you to the hard-working individuals within OS and showcase the wide variety of work we do, meet Dave Tucker. Dave has been with us for a long time but has always worked out in the field. Here, he gives us an insight on his role in mapping Great Britain…

How long have you worked for OS?

43 years – I started at OS in April 1975 at 19 years old! I started as a basic grade 4 surveyor after a gruelling survey course lasting 9 months. I’ve since been sponsored for qualifications including an MSc in Surveying. Currently, I am the South Region Manager in Field Operations and have been in this role for 15 years. I have also been an RICS Chartered Surveyor (MRICS) since 2006.

Can you describe your working day?

In three words, each day for me is busy, varied and rewarding. I have daily responsibilities such as liaising with my fellow field managers, regional management team and the team of 40 surveyors working remotely across London and the South East (using Skype as appropriate). Read More


Surveying the best buildings in Britain

The Royal Institute of British Architects is gathering tonight to preview the RIBA Stirling Prize 2018 shortlist. The annual awards celebrate the best buildings in the UK, the vast majority of which OS surveys and adds to the master map of Great Britain. We’re wondering if our surveyor Tim Glasswell will complete a hat trick and find he has surveyed the winning building once more…

Tim works in our East of England team and has surveyed two buildings in Cambridge which have previously won the national RIBA Stirling Prize – the Sainsbury’s Laboratory (at the University Botanic Garden) in 2012 and the Accordia development in 2008. From this year’s shortlist, Tim and colleague Howard Boyer, surveyed the Storey’s Field Centre and Eddington Nursery, University of Cambridge.

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150-year-old Stonehenge photos unearthed on the Summer Solstice

They are some of the oldest photographs ever taken of the ancient Stonehenge landmark and the book in which they are bound dates back to 1867. It’s a chronicle which until now has been lost in the archives of the national mapping agency Ordnance Survey.

From an original albumen print in the 1867 book ‘Plans and Photographs of Stonehenge and of Turusachan in the Island of Lewis; with notes relating to the Druids and Sketches of Cromlechs in Ireland, by Colonel Sir Henry James, Director General of the Ordnance Survey

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25 years since the last OS benchmark

You may know about our trig pillars, but did you know that there are more nostalgic reminders of how we used to map Great Britain? Have you ever seen one of these while you’ve been out and about? If so, it is highly likely you have spotted one of our renowned benchmarks. 2018 marks 25 years since the last traditionally-cut arrow style benchmark was carved on a milestone located outside The Fountain pub in Loughton.

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