Why Rotary Wing UAS Are Taking Off in Public Safety

Jan. 14, 2015 – As the UAS market transitions from primarily military use to commercial and public safety use, we will see an increasing number of rotary wing UAS being operated as opposed to fixed wing UAS. If you are considering adding UAS data acquisition to your agency, it is important to understand the underlying reasons for this preference.

There are a number of factors that make a rotary wing UAS, or multicopters, attractive to public safety professionals. Besides being simpler to operate, a multicopter is capable of taking off vertically, whereas a fixed wing UAS is launched by hand or with a catapult that requires an open area about the size of a football field. A large, open space is also required for landing a fixed wing, so in an area with obstacles such as trees or power lines, a multicopter is much easier to launch, land and maneuver.

Other Advantages of Rotary Wing UAS

Rotary UAS, such as the Aibot AX20 shown here, can carry a variety of interchangeable sensors, such as a still image camera, video camera, thermal imaging camera or LIDAR sensor, depending on the desired application. This gives the operator flexibility to meet different project requirements with the same platform just by changing the payload. Also, due to the stabilized platform of the multicopter, the orientation of the camera remains consistent, resulting in blur-free imagery. Fixed wing UAS are sensitive to weight and balance and are built to carry a specific sensor, which limits their applicability to certain types of projects.   Additionally, fixed wing UAS aircraft lack the gyro-stabilized sensor platform which can result in blurry images in turbulent flight conditions.

For even more flexibility, the mechanical design of rotary UAS allows operators to collect data while hovering over targets (such as a crash or crime scene) or collect images along a vertical structure such as a tower or building. A fixed wing UAS is typically able to fly faster and for a longer period of time, but it cannot hover during its pre-planned mission. A multicopter can also accommodate a camera or sensor on top pointed up to image an object from below, such as the supports of a bridge.

Safety is another major consideration to support the adoption of rotary UAS. A multicopter is highly suitable for data collection in hazardous situations such as post-blast investigations and disaster recovery. Greater maneuverability—due to its ability to fly vertically and horizontally and hover—helps avoid damage to the object being imaged, to the sensors, and to people and property in the area.

Evaluating Your Investigation Needs

There is a lot to learn about the different types of UAS available today. The best choice for you depends on your typical mission requirements for mapping and documentation. Contact us to learn more about how UAS can assist your agency.

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