Wel­come to The Drone Zone

New Zealand Logger - - Breaking Out -

THEY’VE GONE FROM HUGELY ex­pen­sive toys to use­ful tools in just a hand­ful of years and soon drones will be do­ing far more tasks around the for­est than we could ever imag­ine.

Think close-up ma­chine in­spec­tions, crew ob­ser­va­tions, pre-har­vest sur­veys, af­ter­har­vest sur­veys, aerial map­ping, aerial spray­ing, de­liv­er­ing seedlings, lay­ing out straw­lines and much, much more.

And, start­ing from as lit­tle as $2,000, why wouldn’t ev­ery con­trac­tor and har­vest plan­ner have a drone wait­ing in their ute to be de­ployed as an ‘eye in the sky’ or aerial sur­veyor at a mo­ment’s no­tice?

But, be­fore you all go charg­ing down to your lo­cal store and grab­bing a shiny new UAV (Un­manned Aerial Ve­hi­cle) there’s a few things you should know:

Drones are classed as an air­craft and sub­ject to cer­tain rules es­tab­lished by the CAA (Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity) when used in the great out­doors

For­est own­ers and man­agers may not be too happy to have these things buzzing around their stands with­out cer­tain mea­sures in place

Drones re­quire a level of skill to fly and they can do dam­age if they get too close to a per­son or a ma­chine.

These points (and more) only be­came ap­par­ent to me when the pub­lisher of NZ Log­ger pur­chased a pocket-size drone for aerial pho­tog­ra­phy a few months back and said it would be avail­able to take into the for­est for reg­u­lar Iron Tests and Break­ing Out fea­tures.

Great idea. As more crews be­come fully mech­a­nised it has re­stricted where and how close I can get to ma­chines – es­pe­cially har­vesters and pro­ces­sors – to grab ac­tion pho­tos, due to min­i­mum fall­ing dis­tances, chain­shot and so on.

Get­ting up close to a har­vester roped to a winch-as­sist sys­tem to fall large trees on steep slopes with­out putting my­self in dan­ger would be much eas­ier. Pho­tos snapped from the air or videos of the ac­tion would look spec­tac­u­lar on our web­site and Face­book page.

Ex­cept that I didn’t have any idea how to fly it, let alone pos­sess the ex­pe­ri­ence to take qual­ity pho­tos from a skit­tish aerial plat­form.

And there was an­other com­pli­ca­tion; some for­est man­agers would not al­low drones to be used in their es­tates un­less the op­er­a­tor could demon­strate com­pe­tence with the craft, backed by suit­able pub­lic li­a­bil­ity in­sur­ance.

This was start­ing to get a bit more com­pli­cated and in­volved than I’d first imag­ined.

To gain such com­pe­tency re­quires a drone op­er­a­tor to un­dergo a multi-day course run

by the Massey Univer­sity School of Avi­a­tion in Palmer­ston North. A wee bit of a trek from the up­per North Is­land. But there is an­other op­tion, and one that is tai­lored to the re­quire­ments of those work­ing in the forestry in­dus­try; a spe­cialised course run by In­ter­pine in Ro­torua in con­junc­tion with Massey Univer­sity.

The ap­peal of the In­ter­pine course is that it’s all-in­clu­sive, with drones supplied, course work and in­for­ma­tion, in­doors and out­doors fly­ing ar­eas (ie not weather de­pen­dent) and they feed you lunch, too – just turn up.

The down­side; it’s a five-day course (Mon­day to Fri­day). And if you’re from out of town you need ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The up­side; if you pass the course (yes, there are ex­ams), you get your drone wings and a cer­tifi­cate that says you are a qual­i­fied Re­motely Pi­loted Air­craft Sys­tems (RPAS) op­er­a­tor to CAA Rule Part 101. What that means is you have demon­strated that you un­der­stand the rules and reg­u­la­tions about where and how you can op­er­ate a drone (up to 25kg in weight if it’s pro­fes­sion­ally built, or 15kg if it’s a home build).

You can still fly a drone in New Zealand with­out that qual­i­fi­ca­tion, but you’ll prob­a­bly find that there are a num­ber of places that won’t wel­come you with­out it, such as an in­creas­ing num­ber of plan­ta­tion forests.

And it’s for that rea­son a num­ber of con­trac­tors and other forestry per­son­nel are putting five days aside to go through one of these cour­ses. I did and was joined by a col­league from the magazine pub­lisher and while we ini­tially ques­tioned the need for five days out of our very busy sched­ules, at the end we found it dif­fi­cult to say where time could have been cut – maybe a day if you are al­ready a com­pe­tent drone flyer.

So, Hay­den Wool­ston and my­self joined 10 oth­ers at the Tui Ridge

Park ad­ven­ture cen­tre, 20 min­utes north of Ro­torua, to get our wings.

In­ter­pine runs these cour­ses ap­prox­i­mately ev­ery two-to-three months and tak­ing part along­side us were two har­vest­ing con­trac­tors (Kerry McCormick of McCormick Log­ging and Rob Dunn from Jensen Log­ging), three from for­est man­agers (Port Blak­ley, Ray­onier, and Logic FSL), one from Scion Re­search, three from the Min­istry (MPI) and two from the Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity, who wanted to get first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of just how their rules were be­ing put into prac­tice.

For the first two days, it was mostly about the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of fly­ing drones and learn­ing about the craft we would be us­ing, in this case the DJI Phan­tom 4, a rea­son­ably rugged but not water­proof drone that re­tails in stores for around $2,000. How­ever, In­ter­pine does sell these as part of a kit, com­pris­ing of a sturdy carry case, the drone it­self and four ro­tors, hand con­trol unit (you’ll need an iPad or smart­phone to use as a screen), spare bat­ter­ies, a charger and spare ro­tor blades for around $2,500.

The spare bat­ter­ies are nec­es­sary for those in­tend­ing to do a lot of fly­ing as each charge will pro­vide around 25 min­utes of flight time. Charg­ing can be done from a ve­hi­cle, as well as plug­ging into a home or of­fice 3-pin socket.

In­ter­pine also dis­played a num­ber of other types of drone, in­clud­ing larger mod­els ca­pa­ble of fly­ing fur­ther and car­ry­ing loads, plus one very sim­i­lar to our NZ Log­ger drone, a DJI Mavic, which suits us be­cause it folds up very small for trav­el­ling around the coun­try.

Al­though we brought along our lit­tle Mavic to the course, Hay­den and I de­cided we would use the same Phan­tom 4 as our fel­low drone new­bies.

The Tui Ridge Park fa­cil­ity has a mas­sive gym­na­sium that was ideal for learn­ing to fly the drones in a con­trolled area de­void of wind. Or rain – most drones are not water­proof and if their cir­cuitry gets wet they’ll drop out of the sky.

Af­ter two days we all felt con­fi­dent that we could fly our drones in a se­ries of in­tri­cate ma­noeu­vres and land them in one piece, thanks to the pa­tience of the In­ter­pine train­ers, all ex­pe­ri­enced drone fly­ers (and one who is a com­mer­cial air­craft pi­lot). But

the next two days took us all out of our com­fort zones as we crammed around six months’ worth of knowl­edge on avi­a­tion rules, le­gal re­quire­ments, tech­nol­ogy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions into less than 16 hours. This was con­ducted at the In­ter­pine of­fices in Ro­torua by two lec­tur­ers from the Massey Univer­sity School of Fly­ing, both fixed wing fly­ing in­struc­tors.

Who knew that you needed to check with the con­trol tower of an aero­drome/air­port that is within 4km of the place you pro­pose to use your drone be­cause it’s a con­trolled airspace used by manned air­craft? And what re­ally sur­prised us is that all of Lake Ro­torua, Lake Taupo and the Marl­bor­ough Sounds is con­sid­ered an ‘aero­drome’ be­cause they are used by float planes.

Then you have to know about re­stricted airspace, low fly­ing zones, mil­i­tary zones, dan­ger zones and other haz­ards. Why? Be­cause forests around New Zealand could eas­ily come within any of these zones or spa­ces and the rules are there to sep­a­rate drones from other air users. The course book cov­er­ing all this ran to over 400 pages and at the end we all had to sit a one-hour writ­ten exam to make sure we un­der­stood the rules and regs. The pass mark was set at 70% and it’s been a while since I had to sit an exam and for­tu­nately, Hay­den and I both passed. But that wouldn’t get us our wings yet.

The fi­nal day saw us all back at Tui Ridge Park where the Massey in­struc­tors put each of us through a pair of prac­ti­cal drone flight tests, along with oral ques­tions. One test was con­ducted in the gymn and the sec­ond took place out­side. This re­ally did take us out of our com­fort zones – even those with drone fly­ing ex­pe­ri­ence reck­oned it was a chal­lenge.

And the re­lief was ev­i­dent as each per­son was pre­sented with minia­ture wings and a cer­tifi­cate that we can now wave at any­one who ques­tions if we are qual­i­fied to take a UAV into the for­est.


Tu­tors and ‘stu­dents’ gather for a photo op from the air – cour­tesy of a drone, of course.

Top left: Log­ging con­trac­tor, Kerry McCormick, gets to grips with drone fly­ing.Above top and mid­dle:Qual­i­fied pi­lot and drone tu­tor, Jayne Marsh, in­tro­duces ‘pupils’ to their drones.Shan­non Mick­le­burgh, of Massey Univer­sity, cov­ers rules and reg­u­la­tions for fly­ing drones in New Zealand.Above: Al­lied Pub­lish­ing’s Hay­den Wool­ston holds the NZ Log­ger DJI Mavic drone, with some of the other op­tions sit­ting on the ta­ble.

The DJI Phan­tom 4 drone is widely used in forestry.

Drone in­struc­tor, Chris Scog­gins (far left), gives a prac­ti­cal demon­stra­tion in­side Tui Ridge gym­na­sium.

Learn­ing to con­trol the drone out­side of the gym­na­sium, in windy con­di­tions and near trees, takes prac­tice

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