DEEMI first became active with using UAVs for SAR over two years ago. About that time, DEEMI obtained two unmanned aircraft. The smaller of DEEMI’s drones, the roughly $6,000 fixed-wing VK-Ranger EX-SAR, which has a wingspan of about 70 inches, will be used mainly for training. The larger multi-rotor VVK-FF-X4K, which cost between $20,000 and $25,000 to build and equip, will serve as more of a workhorse, according to Bowie.
It is noteworthy, that DEEMI applied for and received the first FAA Part 333 waiver ever issued to a Search & Rescue organization. We now operate under FAA Part 107, and are seeking waivers for night flights and operations in Class D and E airspace, and possibly for operation from a moving vehicle.
The current UAV system of choice, however, is the DJI Inspire 1, a very stable unmanned vehicle, well supported by DJI and a number of third party manufacturers and software vendors. At the time we received out Inspire 1, we also obtained five spare high-capacity batteries and a FLIR camera system, invaluable necessities for SAR organizations.
In the past year and a half, we have been building our UAV section with additional critical hardware and partnering with Part 107 and other capable UAV pilots, visual observers and ground staff who are on a call list.
We have added a DJI Zenmuse Z-3 camera with 7X zoom capabilities 22-70mm equivalent focal length, a Stork payload deployment system, dual light strobes, a Deeper sonar system for mapping the floor of a waterbody, and a Trackimo gps tracker. We are always looking for ways to expand our capabilities and improve our UAV operations.
With the payload drop system, we can deploy life vests, clothing, water bottles, cell phone or walkie-talkie, medical equipment and supplies or medicine.
A typical mission includes much pre-flight preparation including planning the mission – which includes the search area(s), which camera and what gear are needed, we review sectional charts to note flight obstacles such as terrain elevation, towers, etc.; we check weather and wind forecasts, airspace classification, posted NOTAMS, review of forecasted available GPS satellites, post an Unmanned Operations Area (UOA) notice through Flight Service, perform equipment and gear checks, and coordination with proper air traffic control (ATC) or local airport authorities, if conducting a mission in their airspace.
Once on scene, the pilot, visual observer and ground staff done high-vis safety vests, prepare the area as a landing zone (LZ) with colored landing pad and orange traffic cones which identify the restricted area, visual note local obstructions and other concerns such as people, wires, buildings, etc.; monitor radios for aircraft; then we review safety proprieties, the individual duties and authority of each participating crew member and the communication protocols between team members.