RPAS Business Opportunities

IMG_4062Australia is open for business and is doing progressively better every day when it comes to making money out of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (Drones).

State Government departments and big and small businesses are venturing forth and seeking out licensed operators with UAV Operators Certificates (UOC), licensed controllers and liability insurance, requesting a wide range of missions as they navigate their way towards saving money and achieving a better outcome for their pain, itch of fancy.

UOC holders up until recently have been doing it tough but as the word spreads that money can be saved and profits enhances by using sensor equipped UAVs the aerial robotics industry is now coming out of the doldrums.

CASA is still experiencing a major backlog of applicants eager to get their approvals and start making money. The playing field is littered with operators that have over committed and under performed so like in most new industries there are business failures.

UOC operators that set up professionally with workshops, qualified and experienced staff, have professional websites and sales material, have effective Public Relations and marketing campaigns tend to succeed. Having a range of UAVs both fixed wing and multirotor all equipped with sensors suitable for tasks requested are securing clients willing to enter into long term relationships… hence cashflow!

UAV Training Centers that offer a turn key all in one place training and licensing solution are also benefiting from the steady growth of the industry. Training schools that not only teach you theory, radio and practical flight skills but also business ideas and sales and operational strategy are recommended for those aspirants that have not been in the industry for very long.

A big part of the success of the industry stalwarts is their ability to educate the new client on how they, within their industry can use UAVs to make or save money. Left to their own resources clients have really no idea on what sensors do and how it all works. Be willing to educate, give and befriend. It really is a case of clients not knowing what they don’t know! Be patient and persist. It all takes time and they need to go through a process within their companies of deciding what to do and when. Once they are onboard and using UAVs you have them for live, or until you become progressively too expensive or fail to continue to innovate.

The types of services UAV operators are undertaking that pays the bills is typically analyzing crops, military applications, cinematography, real estate video and still shot imagery, feral animal assessment in forests and mountainous regions, fire management, security applications, filming sporting events, documentaries, TV news and search and rescue applications are starting up now.

A question most operators get asked is “can we operate in urban areas”? The answer is yes but with strict CASA imposed guidelines. Some urban area missions require a CASA issued Area Approval. Check the CASA website for details.

The most common UAVs used in major commercial operations is the hexacopter and or octocopter. The reason is on many occasions the sensor and gimbal is worth more than the flying platform so we need to protect them. Operators are also very mindful of the risks potentially to people and assets so by using the larger devices you have the ability to maintain stability and get on the ground if a fault develops with a controller, motor or propeller. CASA prefers this solution also.

The DJI Inspire 1, a quadrotor, is tending to be a convenient backup device for many UOC operators. Its compact, relative cheap, the camera is suitable for some operations and the camera and operational characteristics easy to use.

Like any new business you need to invest up front capital and develop and manage a team of professionals to support you. Most of us have never been exposed to the technologies involved but if your keen to do research and ask questions you can succeed. A wad of cash, hard work, determination, flexibility, patience, good communication skills and a well-funded public relations campaign are essential for you to succeed.

There is lots of room for many to get involved, as it’s a big country. Helicopters and fixed wing aircraft that have typically been used by many industries in the past have had their day as they are to expensive due to CASA and self imposed operational constraints. UAVs are taking their place.

CASA is now taking up to 5 months to process UOC applications, which is a major concern but if you are patient and get involved this is an exciting and profitable industry. Fly safe.

Remotely Piloted Aircraft Training Academy

'Working in the RPA workshop with industry experts, at Warwick Airfield, QLD (June 2015)'

‘Working in the RPA workshop with industry experts, at Warwick Airfield, QLD (June 2015)’


If your ambition is to have a career change, venture into an exciting new industry of aviation or just want to have some fun flying Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), RPA Training Academy can help you achieve this in just 7 days.

RPAS training involves 4 days of aviation theory including 3 exams. The simulator training can show you how to fly and plan missions before taking the controls of a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (Drone).

Minimum 5 hours flight training is required where you will be the pilot in command. You will learn procedures, systems and techniques but above all have fun. At the end of the RPAS training course you will undertake a flight test.

Most aspiring RPAS prefer the Multirotor due to its functionality and stability to launch, fly, transport and easy to service characteristics.

Ground Control is the computer controls used to fly both Fixed Wing and Multirotor. With the ground control system you can design missions using standard aviation instruments. Included is navigation and fail-safes that trainees learn to master during the training process.

For those aspiring RPA Controllers that already hold a Private Pilots License you can get recognition of prior learning (conditions apply). Students can complete the approved RPA training program or undertake a separate Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) course.

As a guide training costs range from $3,450.00 to $5,450.00 with the most comprehensive program incorporating – flight training, text books, theory, exams, radio license, English proficiency test, accommodation, food and all CASA related applications and licensing costs.

Once you have your license the career possibilities are endless, the most popular in demand include; crop monitoring, search and rescue, thermal imagery, cinematography, real estate advertisements, wildlife monitoring, surveillance, security or as a communications relay device.

Other lucrative opportunities will come when governments start to use RPAS to save money. Now is the time to get in first and become the preferred industry leader in your field.

Make Remotely Piloted Aircrafts your new business or career. Inquire now!

RPA Training Academy

Kelvin Hutchinson is a Chief Flying Instructor in the aviation sector and has a wide range of RPAS operations including an RPAS Training Academy based out of Warwick Aerodrome in Queensland. Contact Kelvin at kelvin@rpas.net.au or on 0407733836.

Building an Unmanned Aircraft

Written by Kelvin Hutchinson, an embedded journalist in the Australian Pilot Magazine.

It is estimated that there are around twenty thousand Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) flying in Australia today. The vast majority are under 2 kg and flown in parks and backyards by unlicensed enthusiasts.

Approximately five percent of those RPA are custom built for specific commercial operations. 250 CASA approved UAV Operator Certificate holder’s utalise these devices for day-to-day commercial operations.

These Aerial Robots comprise static balloons, multirotors and fixed wing assets.

Most commercial operations are undertaken using multirotors, primarily hexacopter (6 blades) and or octocopters (8 blades) which are used because they offer a relatively high degree of protection for the payload which generally comprises sensors worth tens of thousands of dollars. If a motor or propeller malfunctions during flight there is a reasonable chance with the remaining motors/propellers you can get the RPA and the camera on the ground safely.

So what’s needed to build a suitable commercial multirotor platform? Firstly you need to determine what type of operational activities will be undertaken. It’s important as it will have an impact on the design… size, motors, props, autopilot system, undercarriage, gimbal (camera mount) will all vary depending on the intended use.

Lets assume for this exercise that the camera onboard will be used for cinematography i.e. ads, movies, news reports and the like. We will also assume the camera is a Red Epic worth over $40,000. With this payload we have size considerations, weight, potential centre of gravity issues to consider (as the camera moves around), the value of the payload is substantial so it needs to be protected and the camera gimbal will need to be large and sophisticated to cope with this type of camera.

To handle this criteria I would recommend an 1.2 meter octocopter, 15 inch blades with a pitch of 5.5, T-motors (Tiger Motors), retractable undercarriage, Kestrel Autopilot and Taro or ZeroUAV gimbal.

In addition to this complex and expensive equipment you will need esc’s, silicon cables, UBEC devices to provide various voltages to operate different devices onboard, distribution boards, GPS, transmitter receiver, ground control station duplex modem, batteries and battery platforms. All of this and miscellaneous nuts, bolts, screws, solder, relevant tools etc. with cost you around $22,000 before you apply any labour costs.

So where do we start? Cheep multirotor frames from China will not prove to be suitable platforms. Frames built in New Zealand or building your own with quality components is the way to go. The build time will be around 100 hours.

The gimbal will also take some time to setup. It is a precision piece of equipment with unique parts and software system to operate it. Each gimbal build need to be customized to a certain degree to suit the camera. The setup needs to ensure the C of G of the RPA is not affected during flight as the camera nearly always operates separately and requires a second operator on the ground to manage the gimbal and camera. This means training on gimbal and camera operations is needed also.

Professional gimbal setups are generally three axis (pitch, roll, yaw) and have associated software, which required hours of adjustment to get the gains and balance configured. Gimbals can be set to auto stabilization or manual control.

You will need to setup a Remote Pilot Ground Station which comprises a Windows OS computer and familiarize yourself with the Kestrel Flight Systems software that will effectively fly the mission for you from the ground. You will also need a ground based flight control transmitter with all of the RPA onboard systems controlled by the knobs and switches on that transmitter. This also take quite some time to setup.

In addition to the RPA build, ground control station and gimbal setup you will need to secure from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) an approval for this RPA category (<7kg, <20kg etc.) before it can fly. They will require you to submit for approval a pilots manual, maintenance and line maintenance manuals and detailed specifications. CASA treats any RPA as if it’s a manned aircraft. They expect the RPA to be built to a high standard, have professionally prepared documents, a number of failsafe systems and be flown by a qualified and well trained Remote Pilot.

Retail, a ‘system’ like that outlined above will cost around $40,000.

Flying the Octocopter with the gimbal and camera onboard will initially be a challenge and should be undertaken by a well trained and qualified RPA pilot or you will have issues. Expensive ones!

So becoming a commercial operator is a challenge but it’s proving to be a lucrative career and business for many Australian’s. You need to be passionate, dedicated, patient and professional at all time in your approach or CASA or clients will ground you.

Next edition we will look at how Remotely Piloted Aircraft can save money for business and governments and create income for commercial operators.

RPA Training AcademyKelvin Hutchinson is a Chief Flying Instructor in the aviation sector and has a wide range of RPAS operations including an RPAS Training Academy based out of Warwick Aerodrome in Queensland. Contact Kelvin at www.rpas.net.au or on 0407733836 or visit the RPA Training Academy for more details at www.rpas.net.au.

Remotely Piloted Aircraft Pilot Training

Written by Kelvin Hutchinson, an embedded journalist in the Australian Pilot Magazine.

RPA Training Academy

If your ambition is to have a career change and you would like to venture into an exciting new industry or just have fun flying Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) your goal could be only 8-10 days away.

Thousands of small RPAS are currently flying in Australia. Millions throughout the world. 99.9% of the people flying those RPAS are not licensed.

The reason so many are not licensed is because Australia is the only country in the world that has aviation authority approved RPAS training where at the end you secure a CASA Remote Pilot Certificate (a Drone pilots license). The USA is at least 2 years away still from regulatory approvals for RPAS and Europe and Asia have similar timeframes.

At the moment there are only four CASA approved training facilities operating in Australia. There are a number of unscrupulous operators giving prospective RPAS pilots false hope and providing training that does not directly lead to the CASA Controllers Certificate, ultimately costs twice as much and takes many months to obtain. Do your research well! Check CASA approved trainers on the CASA website before starting your training.

CASA is introducing a regulation that will allow owners of RPAS below 2kg to fly within visual line of sight and below 400 feet. Most other nations will probably follow suit. This regulation is highly controversial within the professional RPAS community as its the unregulated users that are likely to bring down an aircraft whilst ‘just having fun’ and the RPAS commercial sector will suffer the consequences i.e. grounding, tighter rules, more training, more paperwork.

Most CASA approved RPAS training centers complete the live in training program within 8 to 10 days. The training typically involves approximately 4 days of aviation theory, 3 exams and simulator training where you learn to fly before taking the controls of a real Remotely Piloted Aircraft. Once you have mastered the simulator (which is very realistic) you then proceed to RPAS flight training which involves manual flying of either a multirotor or fixed wing RPAS and use of a Remote Pilot Station.

A minimum of 5 hours flight training is required and you will be the pilot in command (PIC) for the majority of those hours. You will learn procedures, systems, techniques, and new skills and above all have fun. At the end of the RPAS training course you will undertake a flight test.

The majority of aspiring RPAS pilots seem to go for multirotor qualifications due to the easy to learn, launch, fly, transport and serviceability characteristics of these devices. Multirotors are versatile and can also carry a variety of payloads to suit most situations.

Both fixed wing and multirotor Remote Pilot Stations (RPS) for RPAS offer mission control, standard aviation instruments, navigation capability and numerous fail-safes that trainees learn how to use and master during the training process.

Onboard autopilots, motors, props, batteries and aerial robot types are covered in detail in all training programs.

For those aspiring RPA Controllers that already hold a Private Pilots License you can bypass most of the theory training but the options are to either complete the approved RPA training program, to learn how to fly an RPAS, or undertake an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) course on a specific type of RPAS to secure your license.

As a guide most live in 8-10 day courses are around $5,500.00 which in most cases includes all costs – flight training, text books, theory, exams, radio license, English proficiency test, accommodation, food and all CASA related application and licensing costs.

To start the process of training the first thing you will need is an ARN (Aviation Reference Number) from CASA. This is free. You need to make application on the CASA website.

Once you have your Remote Pilot Certificate you have this license for life. Commercially, you most likely will fly using a variety of cameras/sensors or carry payloads for saving lives all within typically a 3-5 mile radius. I can almost guarantee you you won’t be delivering packages for Amazon or FedEx!

Other possible missions will include crop monitoring, search and rescue, fire monitoring or as a communications relay device.

Right now there are only 2-3 licensed RPA companies making big money in Australia. They have lucrative contacts with television companies or movie studios. This is where the money is at this point in time.

Other lucrative opportunities will come when governments start to use RPAS to save money. This is probably still 2-3 years away but it’s coming.

Next edition we will look at what is involved in building your own multirotor from scratch.

Kelvin Hutchinson is a Chief Flying Instructor in the aviation sector and has a wide range of RPAS operations including an RPAS Training Academy based out of Warwick Aerodrome in Queensland. Contact Kelvin at kelvin@rpas.net.au or on 0407733836 or visit RPA Training Academy’s website at www.rpas.net.au.

Remotely Piloted Aircraft Regulations

Written by Kelvin Hutchinson, an embedded journalist in the Australian Pilot Magazine.

RPA Training Academy
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has led the way world-wide for over ten years on regulatory framework, RPA Controller training and risk and safety considerations relative to Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) operations.

This foresight has allowed many Australian companies to create unique business models and even take out patents over essential aspects of the technologies creating long-term benefits to the Australian economy.

New Zealand, the United States and European aviation authorities have watched closely what the CASA have done and in the most part are copying the regulations, systems and processes. They all still do not have a comprehensive policy framework in place as yet.

RPAS are regulated under Part 101 of CASR 1998. It’s been relative simple to follow but in more recent years has been subject to controversy when it came to interpretation relative to training and RPA flight operations. Numerous CASA officials offered their personal views on what should be implemented which caused a number of new RPS business to fold waiting for decisions. That situation has now been fixed! Updated and more controversial regulations are due to be implemented by the CASA in 2015.

One of the most concerning issues commercial RPA operators have right now is that the CASA is allowing small, less than 2kg RPA to operate without regulation, licensing or flight training requirements. The concern is that thousands of small RPA flying around where and when they want will bring professional operators into disrepute even though the commercial operators are operating within the law. CASA’s view is that it’s a state and local government problem. To the best of my knowledge no one at CASA has advised them of this.

RPAS is a new industry with lots of potential. Many new businesses are springing up to take advantage of what is a cheap aerial delivery platform. Amazon, Google, Boeing and many more have advanced RPA business development programs in place and intend to be and remain industry leaders. RPA Controllers (Pilots) with experience, it is predicted will be in short supply within 2-3 years.

There are two aspects to think about what considering entering this industry. The first, do you want to have a business making money and the second, do you want to be an RPA Controller or Remote Pilot?

Most people want to fly RPA because they’re exciting and challenging. They get you outdoors and there’s something different and exciting happening every day. The money is pretty good also. Quite appealing?

If you want to take control of RPA you will need a Controllers Certificate (CC). This effectively is your Pilots License. You will however need to fly under someone’s Unmanned Operators Certificate (UOC) if you want to be paid. RPA Controllers cannot charge for flight services unless they operate under strict CASA business operator rules and guidelines.

To obtain a Controllers Certificate you have two possible options. The first is to sit the existing Private Pilots License (PPL) exam and then secure an Aircraft Radio Operators Certificate of Proficiency (AROCP) and then also have 5 hours minimum training on a CASA approved RPA. This option requires a lot of work on you part and ends up being quite expensive and complicated. As a guide budget around $5,000.

The second option is to attend a CASA approved Training Academy that only undertakes RPA training. Most courses are ‘live in’ over 7 to 10 days and you finish up with a CASA issued Controllers Certificate. As a guide budget around $4,000.

Upon completion of either method you become what is called a ‘Remote Pilot’.

Most aspiring Remote Pilots want to undertake multirotor training as they see that as offering the best opportunities in the future.

If you want to start you own RPA business you will need to secure the Unmanned Operators Certificate (UOC) from the CASA. The process is daunting, long and expensive. It is highly recommended that you either have aviation knowledge or have access to someone who does, and they have lots of spare time, to undertake the application process.

You are required to prepare and submit documents detailing:

  • Part A – General Policies and Procedures
  • Part B – RPAS Operating Procedures
  • Part C – Internal Training
  • Part D – Aerial Work Operations

You will also need to submit a business plan, conduct a risk assessment, know CASR 101 quite well, have pilot and maintenance manuals for all RPA you intend to fly, have trained crew and undertake a practical flying assessment. As a guide budget around $10,000.

In addition you will need to select, assemble and maintain to an acceptable standard your Remotely Piloted Aircraft. CASA will expect to see check lists, risk assessments and maintenance release documentation used before, during and after each flight.

Your UOC is only issued initially for 12 months after which you have a second assessment and pay a fee again to CASA if they choose to renew your OUC.

Despite the onerous conditions and time it takes it will be worth it for most. Because the barriers to entry are so high the few that do make it through will do well. It is an industry of the future and as soon as governments take up the technologies those in the driving seat will prosper.

If you have questions about training and OUC options email me at any time.

Next edition we will look at what is involved in training to become an RPA Controller and future job prospects.

RPA Training AcademyKelvin Hutchinson is a Chief Flying Instructor in the aviation sector and has a wide range of RPAS operations including the RPAS Training Academy based from Warwick Aerodrome in Queensland.

Contact Kelvin at kelvin@rpas.net.au or on 0407733836 or visit the website at www.rpas.net.au.

Remotely Piloted Aircraft Payloads

Written by Kelvin Hutchinson, embedded journalist in the Australian Pilot Magazine.

Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) business owners when they first start out are lured by the prospect of an exciting new industry… aerial robotics.

Once they have got over the excitement of the purchase of two or three rather expensive RPA and start to fly them the reality of how to make money hits home.

Payloads make money. The RPAS is simply the economical delivery platform. Payloads vary depending the on the industry you choose to service. What industries need RPAS now? Who is willing to pay for it and make ongoing payments to keep you in business? Consider your options carefully.

Agriculture and livestock management, surveying, surveillance, exploration and search and rescue are expected to be the most lucrative pursuits for RPAS. All need different sensors and software processing solutions.

Sensors and cameras vary greatly and so do costs. Gimbals carry sensors and cameras and most gimbals have sophisticated technology built in to keep cameras stable during flight.

At this stage the cameras and sensors being used are lightweight, high definition, still and movie cameras that can be controlled remotely or via onboard software. Sensors include infrared, multispectral, hyperspectral and lidar devices.

Lidar is the latest and most alluring of the sensors. Lidar can 3D map an accident or crime scene in minutes assisting police, SES and fire services. Hyperspectral and Multispectral can determine the health of crops and livestock and can find minerals or even a particular type of plant in the middle of deserts or within thick mountainous regions. Infrared sensors can find animals or people at sea or in dense forests anytime day or night.

RPA fitted with gas detection sensors can fly over gas fields in minutes and report leaks back to base that can be attended to immediately by ground crews. In-ground gas pipes, like those linking the Surat Basin to Gladstone in Queensland, can be monitored by RPAS that can detect gas leaks as they pass over at 30-40knots.

Entrepreneurs are working on detecting cattle and sheep wearing National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) devices from RPAS flying 100 meters overhead. Specific data such as Latitude and Longitude as well as the ID number of the animal is then sent live to your computer … all while the farmer is sitting at home! Imagine the applications here in rural and remote Australia!

Police in most states are now using a combination of infrared and high definition cameras to check hostage situations and crime scenes before allowing police to move potentially into harms way. The military in Australia and internationally use sophisticated RPAS in war zones to undertake surveillance and precision bombing. Those RPAS are sometimes flown by pilots sitting in rooms 5000km away.

Payloads you can expect to see before long will be flotation devices that can be dropped by an RPAS to people at sea or caught by coastal rips. Hyperspectral sensors will become prolific in the agriculture sector monitoring crops over the next few years. Millions of dollars can be saved by farmers, hence profitability is improved by evaluating crops at varying stages and analyzing soils for mineral deficiencies and water logging.

State governments are planning to use RPAS more in emergency and natural disaster situations. Fire, cyclone, search and rescue and coastal surveillance are all under consideration. Rural fire services in both Queensland and New South Wales have been evaluating RPAS and various sensors for some time. Surf Life Saving Australia has been testing RPAS for remote beach surveillance and life saving activities with great success to date.

A few RPAS operators are considering establishing an organisation similar to the ‘Civil Air Patrol’ concept. This would likely attract volunteer RPAS pilots needing flight time in their logbooks to fly RPAS in emergency or search and rescue situations under the control of emergency services and police across the country. Payloads would include video cameras, hyperspectral and lidar devices that can be beamed live back to any operational headquarters in the country.

In the past five years sensors and cameras have grown in capability but at the same time reduced in size, cost and weight making them perfect for RPAS based operations.

A consideration for all RPAS operators is the fact that flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) is not something that operators can expect to be able to undertake until aviation authorities (CASA, FAA etc) feel the Unmanned Operator Certificate (UOC) holder and RPA Controller has a good track record in a number of areas and has systems and procedures in place that they are happy with.

These areas include… the RPA, is it equipped and suitable for BVLOS? What autopilot and fail-safe systems exist? The RPA must have professionally prepared Operations, Pilot, Maintenance and Line Maintenance manuals approved by CASA. Another area is your risk and safety procedures relevant to general operations and complex missions.

Another consideration is the fact that aviation authorities around the world are requiring BVLOS RPA to have an aircraft ‘sense-and-avoid’ solution (possibly ADSB or a Transponder for example) plus a VHF radio onboard.

Next edition we will look at what is involved in securing CASA approvals for RPAS operations.

RPA Training AcademyKelvin Hutchinson is involved in general aviation and a wide range of RPAS operations based out of Warwick Aerodrome in Queensland. Contact Kelvin at kelvin@rpas.net.au or visit the RPA webiste for information on the RPA Training Academy. 



Remotely Piloted Aircraft Operations

Written by Kelvin Hutchinson, embedded journalist in the Australian Pilot Magazine.

RPA Training AcademyRemotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) if operated professionally with well trained pilots and ground crew, quality autopilots and ground station software can be extremely reliable and safe. So what is needed to setup and operate an RPAS business that makes sustainable income?

CASA approved RPAS operators are put through thorough interviews and flight tests, the operator’s RPA will have been tested and certified and extensive operational paperwork systems will have been checked and approved. Regular CASA operational in the field reviews are undertaken to ensure ongoing safety and risk mitigation.

A key consideration for CASA and any operator is kinetic energy and potential impact with human or asset. RPAS commercial operators have to submit a risk and safety case to CASA to show how risk, relative to impact and kinetic energy has been considered and if possible substantially reduced. Selecting an RPAS that will perform and minimize impact risk is important.

Most RPAS operators applying initially to the CASA for an Unmanned Operators Certificate (UOC), who want to secure the approval relatively quickly, apply using a <7kg RPAS that is built out of EPP. EPP (Expanded Polypropylene) is a robust but lightweight foam like material that has far less kinetic energy than fiberglass and with rear mounted motors and props reduces adverse impact risk with humans.

EPP constructed RPAS allows for more weight allocation for payloads. If your RPAS only weighs 4-5kg then generally you will have 1-2kg for endurance (batteries) and payload.

Todays RPAS industry has come about due to the advent of the RPAS autopilot. Autopilots offer stability, accuracy, robotic sophistication and numerous fail-safes. Depending on your RPAS type most autopilots can even automatically takeoff and land the device and fly the mission uninterrupted. GPS linked autopilot software can also turn on and off the cameras at specific locations. Onboard pilot and static sensors allow accurate airspeed assessment and also adjust landing heights automatically based on changing barometric pressures assessments during flight.

RPAS are quite often controlled with transmitters or joysticks during takeoff and within seconds are switched over to ‘Auto’. Auto or autonomous modes mean the RPA flies a mission that has been accurately planned using the ground station software before the flight. Track, height, speed, when the sensors are turned on and off during flight – all failsafes are preset, and how you want the RPAS to land automatically are all programmed using the ground station software program.

Most commercial ground stations also include sensor link technology. RPAS mounted cameras and sensors link to recording equipment and can provide a live video feed on progress during flight.

Ground stations typically have a live 900 MHz Datalink with the RPAS. This means you can change the flight plan, out to 50 nm, during the flight. RPAS missions are monitored live via satellite images showing the RPAS moving on a computer monitor. Joystick controls allow manual take over of the flight at any time during the mission.

Sensor images need processing and interpretation as clients specify. This aspect of any RPAS commercial operation is still the most difficult aspect of the mission. It is time consuming and the file sizes are substantial making it difficult to send files via the internet to clients. Solving this issue relevant to specific industries (agriculture, mining, etc) is the key to success. Carefully consider your options.

The greatest challenge for RPAS operators is ‘beyond visual line of sight’. CASA has strict requirements that for the average RPAS operator may be difficult to achieve. Examples of what may be required include the need for a VHF radio onboard the RPAS that can have its frequencies changes by the controller on the ground during flight. In addition a ‘sense and avoid’ device like a transponder or ADSB that also must be able to be controlled on the ground during flight may be needed. Check with the CASA before you embark on your business plan thinking you will be able to fly any where at any time.

Once you have the RPAS you need, software and systems working as needed, you need to consider the fact you are hauling expensive and bulky technical equipment around the country. Trailers and infield equipment become essential for a successful operation.

Any commercial operation needs at least two people to undertake the mission. The Pilot in Command is in control of the ground station and sensors during missions and a lookout during flights, who can also manually fly the RPAS, is a key member of any team. Most businesses need a reasonably substantial and sustainable cash flow before two fulltime, fully trained staff members or contractors can be employed!

A major consideration is time. I have a workshop dedicated to RPAS with all mod cons, parts, technical equipment and even with all of this I estimate it took 6 months to get setup and operational. Every day we are testing, modifying and developing various robotic devices and testing and adjusting software. Research is ongoing constantly. CASA documentation preparation and the approval and licensing process took over 8 months and is ongoing.

Starting an RPAS business is no different to starting any other new business. You need to be committed, focused, patient and persistent.

Next month we will look at what is involved in developing payloads for RPAS.

Kelvin Hutchinson is involved in general aviation and a wide range of RPAS operations based out of Warwick Aerodrome in Queensland.

RPA Training AcademyVisit the RPA Website and find out more about the RPA Training Academy or Contact Kelvin at kelvin@rpas.net.au or 0407733836.


Commercial Remotely Piloted Aircraft

Written by Kelvin Hutchinson, Published in Australian Pilot Magazine.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) are the official ICAO terms for aerial robots. The general public and media love to call them drones, maybe because it makes them sound more sinister and dramatic.

So what is an UAS or RPAS? Basically it involves a computer (Ground Station), operational software for datalink and sensorlink, a payload – a deployable device, camera or sensor and either a fixed wing, helicopter or multirotor type device.

RPAS in general are computer controlled. RPA pilots are trained to manually control an RPA in the event of an emergency. Being a robot and programmed to undertake a specific mission, RPA they will do exactly as programmed. With the human element minimized the mission is likely to be much more accurate and safer. Numerous operational failsafe’s are built into the RPA autopilot. Return to home, land now, orbit now can be activated automatically if the RPA looses contact with the base station. The RPA autopilot can detect when the battery onboard only just has sufficient life to get the RPA home and will automatically return the RPA to the take off point and land it.

The type of RPA you choose to operate depends on the business model you choose and also the anticipated mission type. It is not a ‘one type fits all’ situation unless you are an owner operator with only one intended function, such as crop monitoring.

If you need to cover a large area for agricultural, mining, surveillance or search and rescue purposes a fixed wing RPA with 2-3 hours endurance might be the best solution. If you need a stable platform to carry sensors, cameras and or deployable devices within smaller areas a Multirotor may be the best choice.

CASA issues Unmanned Operators Certificates (UOCs) to commercial operators based on RPAS weights. 2kg up to 150kg and beyond depends on your operational history (safe operations over time), rigor in your training and operations, safety and risk mitigation procedures and pilot qualifications.

RPA under 2kg are classified by CASA as toys so the operator does not need formal training or a license and the RPA does not need certification. Considering there are thousands of these currently operating in Australia this is a major issue for licensed operators!

CASA also issues licensed operators with strict operational height restrictions. 400 feet AGL is the general height approved unless the pilot and RPAS are approved by CASA to go higher. Most missions over 400 feet need what is called an Area Approval issued by CASA before you can fly. More on this later in the series.

If you decide to apply for a CASA issued UOC your first approval will probably be – visual line of sight, not above 400 feet, VMC and a CASA approved <7kg RPAS (and all that entails). As stated above, a good safe track record, professional procedures and interaction with CASA along with additional RPA pilot (knows as a Controller) qualifications will get you beyond line of sight and >400 feet in airspace undertaking fully autonomous operations. Make sure you consider this if you decide to start an RPAS business!

There are a number of good quality <7kg fixed wing RPAS on the market. You will pay between $2500 and $80,000 for an entire system and then there is the payload. Remember the payload is what makes the money. The RPA is simply an affordable delivery platform. The client does not care how you achieve what they are paying for they just want affordable, timely, quality and meaningful results.

The same applies for multirotors. Good platforms range from $5000 to $35,000.

Commercial multirotor operators tend to use either hexacopters or octocopters. These RPAS can still operate if one of the motors stops. Essential for saving what can be $20,000 sensors and other types of payloads.

The above prices include the RPA, autopilots, software and sensor deployment systems such as gimbals or retractable devices used on fixed wing RPA. The prices also include basic FPV (First Person View) video systems to monitor progress during a mission.

Ground stations with datalink trackers (extends a datalink signal out to 50nm) vary in price from $15,000 to $50,000 depending on the degree of sophistication and the autopilot and ground station software involved.

Tools, batteries, chargers, spare parts, shade structures, tables and chairs, custom trailers, generators and the like will cost up to $20,000. You will need them!

The current challenge for RPAS operators wanting to fly beyond visual line of sight and above 400 feet is the CASAs (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) possible requirement that an automated ‘sense and avoid’ solution be installed to detect and fly the RPA around other aircraft. VHF Radios and transponders, linked back to the base station operator, may also be a requirement for larger RPAS.

Next month we will look at what is involved in flying a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System.

Kelvin Hutchinson is involved in general aviation and a wide range of RPAS operations based out of Warwick Aerodrome in Queensland. Contact Kelvin at kelvin@rpas.net.au or 0407733836.

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The Dawning of a New Age in Aviation

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Drones, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) or whatever you like to call aerial robots are soon going to play a significant role in our lives, and actually much more than we think.

Technological breakthroughs, robotic innovation and the ability to write unique and complex algorithms are being fuelled by an avalanche of very clever technical engineers and individuals, like you and I, interested in these ever-evolving technologies.

‘Aerial Robotics’ is one area that has captured the imagination of many and so has grown exponentially with would-be entrepreneurs wanting to have the first business model that will create significant disruption, hence sustainable profitability, to many existing supply chains.

In Australia probably the most notable user of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) is Channel 7. Current affairs programs, sport and documentaries regularly have the low to high steady pan shots creating a great effect. The movie and advertising industries are also using RPAS contractors to create great effects. Farmers are using RPAS to undertake aerial surveillance of livestock and for crop evaluation. Operators are evaluating RPAS for coastal surveillance, search and rescue using high definition and infrared cameras with arrangements soon to be announced.

Larger operators such as Boeing, Airbus and Google are already well advanced with designs of semi-autonomous aircraft, vehicles and items around the home and at work that will make life easier, safer and cheaper. Ten years from now robotics, automation and new forms of computer technology and communications will be a well accepted and an affordable way of life.

The explosion of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (official ICAO term for an aerial robot, RPAS) has not gone unnoticed by aviation authorities worldwide. Our Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has led the world with RPAS legislation, licensing and operational certification. Australia has close to one hundred CASA approved Unmanned Operator’s Certificate (UOC) holders and RPAS Controller’s Certificate (CC) pilots number almost two hundred.

The problem for CASA is that many hundreds of RPAS are operating around Australia with no form of license or professional training. Costs associated with securing an RPAS Controllers Certificate and an Unmanned Operators Certificate can be up to $30,000.

RPAS under 2kg currently do not require any form of license or pilot training. Individuals who own and fly these small aerial robots cannot undertake any form of commercial operation.

If you are CASA approved to operate an RPAS business you have significant responsibilities. CASA treats RPAS as an aircraft. Size is irrelevant as far as CASA is concerned, so if it travels in airspace it needs management and regulation. Public safety (in the air and on the ground) is paramount!

So where are the opportunities for Aerial Robots in Australia and is there money to be made? The good news is that there are opportunities in most industries and lots of financial potential! The bad news is that the barriers to entry are high, expensive and complex. The CASA approval process naturally is rigorous and arduous but essential. The opportunities are endless, but, getting existing companies associated with agriculture, mining, surveying, government etc to consider RPAS in lieu of existing supply chain solutions, is time consuming and expensive.

The lure of many is that these major industry operators are keen to have aerial robotic solutions in their industries, if it saves them time and money, but the solutions being offered currently by many RPAS entrepreneurs are not up to a standard they find acceptable. This situation will change over time.

The most significant impediment to RPAS operators advancing in these industries is ‘sensor processing’ software. RPAS Operators typically have gigabytes of Hyper-spectral, Multispectral or

images with metadata to stitch, process, interpret and submit in a useful and meaningful format to clients. This is what makes the money, not owning and flying an RPA.

In the following months we will explore topics such as what is involved in setting up an RPAS business, RPAS payloads that make money, the approval process with CASA, training and workshops, types of RPAS you will need in a commercial operation and costs involved.

If you are interested in RPAS any existing operator would advise you to start small. Consider building a semi-autonomous RPAS under 2kg and practice using the computer controls (RPAS are computer programmed and controlled), autopilot and manual controls.

Kelvin Hutchinson is involved in general aviation and a wide range of RPAS operations based out of Warwick Aerodrome in Queensland. Contact Kelvin at kelvin@rpas.net.au or click on the website here to find out more; www.rpas.net.au.  

Article Published in the AOPA Magazine, Written by Kelvin Hutchinson