When visitors to SkogsElmia outside Jönköping, Sweden saw the Swedish Forest Agency’s camera-equipped model airplane, their first question was if it would be used to spy on forest owners.
“No – it covers too small an area and isn’t suitable for that purpose,” answered its operator, Lars Björk.
The tiny plane was developed by SmartPlanes in Skellefteå, Sweden. The Swedish Forest Agency has bought one to use in creating photographic documentation of forests and other areas for landowners and other clients.
“The photos are terrific, with a resolution of five centimetres,” Lars says. “The plane also records altitude data so you can create three-dimensional pictures.”
The plane is far from being a toy. It forms part of a sophisticated computer system. The operator flies it up to a hundred metres in altitude and then the autopilot takes over. The plane travels a pre-programmed route and documents the area in question.
Similar photo reconnaissance has been done before, for example by helicopters, but the high cost deterred many forest owners from acquiring the best possible information for such purposes as forest management planning, documenting insect infestations, and road planning. The model airplane system – officially known as unmanned areal system (UAS) costs a lot less and does the job faster.