International Globetrotters

Round round get around
We get around
Get around round round we get around
we get around
Get around round round we get around
From town to town
Get around round round we get around
We’re a real cool head
Get around round round we get around

Cheers to the Beach Boys for those opening words…

Just popped into the inbox…always good to see local lads doing well…the full update is in the Hawkeye UAV web site but I’ve taken the liberty of posting up the ISR-focused highlights below…this is cutting edge Kiwi technology, both in the aircraft technology and the imagery processing methodology…don’t forget that the processed imagery shown is actually a 3D model – very cool….and more so when you consider the size of the airframe doing the work….all images and text below © Hawkeye UAV…

At the end of September David and I departed Auckland, complete with UAV and cold weather kit, bound for Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.   We arrived late Sunday night, to spend a week conducting tasks that included surveying an open cast coalmine in the North of the country.  Our host company MonMap took very good care of us and had made all internal arrangements for our stay and operations.

Mongolia is a really interesting place, mineral rich, particularly in copper and coal.  They have a young democracy born from the departure of Soviet control in 1989 at the time when the Iron Curtain was falling.  The legacy of Soviet rule is plain to see in Ulaanbaatar, particularly in its architecture.  That said, the obvious Western influence has definitely taken root in new business and development, and the culture of the city dwellers.  The predominantly Buddhist, Mongolian people are very open and friendly, fiercely patriotic and proud of their heritage and in particular their iconic founding father and conquering hero, Chinggis (Genghis) Khan.  His face is immortalised everywhere on statues, monuments, Vodka bottles and at least three kinds of very good local beer.  The capital’s international airport is of course named after him too.


Ulaanbaatar City

On Tuesday we travelled north via road to Sharyn Gol, a coal mining facility with a population of nearly 10,000 in the adjacent village.  Sharyn Gol was a former Soviet mine and the apartment blocks, main buildings and much of the legacy equipment remain.

Wednesday dawned overcast and with little wind initially which was an encouraging sign for the beginning of flight operations.  We had divided the whole facility into three flight areas, 1) The old and current open mines, 2) The steppes, railhead and facilities and 3) the village and outlying buildings.


Sharyn Gol mine HQ building, railhead and facilities


Mining equipment


Sharyn Gol coalmine

Throughout the morning the wind rose steadily and by the time we launched for our first sortie we were experiencing some good crosswind gusts in excess of 30 km per hour.  We conducted the flight as planned, with encouraging approval from the MonMap guys, a team of whom had laid out and very quickly tagged GPS markers for our ground control.  We had set up on the South rim of the pit clear of all mining operations and traffic, operating from out the back of MonMap’s Landcruiser. The flight duration was 72 minutes and we captured over 1,100 images. Recovery was routine, with the Hawk landing within 10 metres of our designated recovery spot.  Indicated wind gusts were registering as high as 47 km per hour and were blowing straight in off the Siberian plains.  Jackets and hats were the order of the day!  The AreoHawk took it all in stride.

After lunch we prepared for the next flight, launching from the South rim still, but further East this time, closer to our target area.  With more runs being conducted into and downwind, speed control and camera firing interval were of particular importance.  Our ability to adjust track, speed and turn radius on the fly, rather than relying on preplanned waypoints, comes into its own in these scenarios.  Despite the variable and strongly gusting winds, the task and subsequent recovery went smoothly and the Hawk landed within 20 metres of its programmed landing point.  Flight time was once again over 70 minutes long with in excess of 1,000 photos captured.

With the ever increasing wind and failing light we decided to conduct the final flight the next morning.  On the completion of Wednesday’s flying I started processing the imagery from flight 1, the mine.


AreoHawk 02 in MonMap livery


Parachute deployment, flight 1


About to touch down

Thursday morning was bright and sunny (and not as cold!).  With good light quite early we launched immediately after breakfast from an area North of the mine, within our target area.  This time we were operating adjacent to the foothills and the village lay stretched out on an incline, requiring David (on the controls for this sortie) to carefully manage acquisition altitude and terrain avoidance for the duration of the flight.  Being so close to the housing area and the schools we soon drew a steady stream of onlookers and curious folk keen to have a look at our operation and pose for photos with us and the UAV.

While the wind did once again grow in strength throughout the morning to over 30 km per hour it had little impact on the flight, which went very smoothly and was over 80 minutes in duration.  One of the main objectives of surveying the village and populated areas was to provide MonMap with a dataset for cadastral boundary and feature extraction.  The resulting product is very good and more than suitable for this purpose, especially with the GPS control applied.


Parachute hatch just popping on final recovery in Mongolia

Having completed flying operations and surveying more than a combined 12 square kilometres (3,000 acres) across the three completed flights we packed our stuff and headed back to Ulaanbaatar.  This gave us the opportunity to get into some imagery processing in the office, and to play tourist a bit.

Overall the results from the Mongolia flights have been outstanding.  We captured a lot of imagery on each sortie, with very strong overlap.  Both the point clouds and the orthophotos are extremely pleasing.  Working with MonMap was outstanding and we look forward to our return to their country next year to deliver systems and training, and for the odd Chinggis Gold lager.  Results video here.

Sharyngol Mine

Orthophoto mosaic result sample


Digital Elevation Model generated from the dense point cloud


Mine orthophotos draped over terrain model

South Africa:

In September, Andre Henrico of Aeroscan Aerial Survey, South Africa, attended training in New Zealand on his new AreoHawk.  A seasoned UAV professional, Andre has been doing the business from his South African base for many years.  Upon his return home he wasted no time getting to work, deploying his new gear on a task in Botswana.

Andre was good enough to send us some photos and share some of his results.


Andre onsite with his AreoHawk preparing to get underway




Digital Surface model


Elevation profile superimposed in front of the terrain model

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