Indago Drone Used for Disaster Relief Mission in Vanuatu

By Allyson Versprille

ATLANTA — After Cyclone Pam devastated the small Pacific nation of Vanuatu, Lockheed Martin’s Indago quad roto unmanned aerial vehicle was used to survey damage for two weeks.

After the cyclone hit Vanuatu in March as a Category 5 storm with winds over 200 mph, the country’s government and the World Bank asked Heliwest, an Australian aircraft operator, to send its Indago vertical-take off and landing system to assist the nation.

“We were being tasked to go to some of the worst affected areas,” said Luke Aspinall, manager of special operations for Heliwest. “We were observing anything from 80 to 100 percent destruction of the existing shelter” in some urban areas.

A single Indago aircraft surveyed 50 sites across nine islands and performed 126 sorties over 12 days. It collected aerial photographs and videos and created maps of some of the most damaged areas, he said May 4 during a phone call with reporters

“We were able to map large areas very quickly,” he said. It also worked in tandem with fixed-wing aircraft.

Indago weighs five pounds, has endurance of more than 45 minutes and a range of three miles. It can operate during the day or at night. 

Because of the drone’s small form, it gave the team flexibility as they traveled across the country, he said. 

“Our logistics footprint was pretty much three backpacks,” he said. “With the different payloads that we had with us, it was actually able to perform what other teams were using three or four aircraft to do.”

The team traveled via small helicopters, cars, motorcycles and police patrol boats. During the Vanuatu mission, Aspinall was able to increase the aircraft’s endurance to 52 minutes, he noted. It operated in winds up to 40 knots and in moderate rain.

“It was still able to do its flight, where other systems were being grounded,” he said.

While flying in Vanuatu, Heliwest had “very flexible” aviation regulations. It was required to fly the drone below 400 feet, within visual line of sight and it could not restrict any manned flight. 

Additionally, Heliwest was required to publish a flying program detailing the next day’s operations. “Once that was published we couldn’t change it,” he said.

Earlier this year, Heliwest used Indago to spot wildfires in Australia. It helped to save 100 homes, according to Lockheed Martin. 

In addition, the drone has been used for oil and gas surveying and mining applications in Australia, Aspinall said. Heliwest has had Indago since November 2014.

Topics: Homeland Security, Disaster Response, Robotics, Unmanned Air Vehicles

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