by Knut Torbjørn Moe
The Altura Zenith is taking part in several Search and Rescue exercises in Norway, 1,200 meters above sea level, strong icy winds and sub-zero temperature, proving its capabilities for Avalanche Search & Rescue in the harshest climatic conditions.
If you have ever pondered how angry winter can be, here’s a little food for thought. Those beautiful winter picture-postcard images you see in travel magazines and snowboard flicks make winter mountaineering look peaceful, romantic and inviting. Mountain life is rarely like that – frostbite, freezing fog, whiteout and sudden weather changes are things that spring to mind, if you’re a northerner. And avalanches…
There is nothing more frightening than being caught up in the mountains by a sudden thunderous crack, followed by a deep rumble of an avalanche racing down the side of the mountain at speeds of up to 120km an hour. White death is upon you. It happens every winter with at least 150 people killed in avalanches worldwide every year. Norwegian Civil Defense, the police, Alpine Mountain Rescue Groups, the International Red Cross, the air force and local rescue groups practice continuously and vigorously to be able to rapidly enter, search, clear and report on avalanche areas. This year, Aerialtronics is supporting our Nordic partner, Interfoto, in exploring how drones can be used in avalanche events.
Team and travel
Norwegian scenery is like nothing else and with the amount of equipment our team must bring with them, edging along winding roads on mountain passes, it’s good that we’ve been equipped with great SUVs that can cope with the slippery, icy roads to transport the Aerialtronics’ pilots and the UAVs to the operations area.
In all things be prepared
Using drones in a serious scenario such as an avalanche requires more than having a great UAV system and a capable pilot. Everybody involved needs to interact on site and provide support for each other, enabling all to perform their duties as quickly and precisely as possible.
Our preparations started two months ago, when Interfoto asked us to create the best possible scenario for using drones in an avalanche. We knew the Zenith ATX8, which is renowned for its reliability, robustness and stability, could handle extremely cold temperatures and wind, but to interact in the ways required, we have fitted a twin-tier communications protocol in the system. Firstly, the drone itself contains a 3G/4G (even EDGE) module that takes the video feed from the payload, adapts it to the available bandwidth and makes it available on the internet within three to four seconds. Not putting all our eggs in one basket and trusting the mobile phone system alone, we’ve also included a satellite link allowing us high-speed internet access at very acceptable rates (to those who have used satellite communications, we’re talking about up to 6 Mbit/s at less than €200 a month).
With equipment like this, it all comes down to endurance and operator skill.
Embedded in national rescue efforts
We often meet professionals in the search and rescue community in many places, and we’re always made welcome and greeted with great curiosity. Norway is no different and it’s inspiring to be invited in to an elite joint rescue group such as the team here at Hovden, Norway. Our job this time is to provide real-time video and overwatch for administrators and dispatch information on site and remotely.
We spent the whole day at more than 1,200 metres in total whiteout conditions with sub-zero temperatures and icy winds. Difficult, yes, but we rise to the challenge.
Tomorrow’s our key day as the avalanche rescue efforts begin in earnest and I’m looking forward to telling you all about it. Stay with us, and we’ll return with more pictures from our amazing experience during this practice session with the search and rescue experts.
Aerialtronics is an international manufacturer of state of the art, high quality unmanned aircraft systems for civilian purposes. We provide full aerial data solutions to a variety of applications worldwide. Aerialtronics’ systems are designed and developed in-house according to aviation grade quality standards.
Aerialtronics defines the future of unmanned aircraft systems.
Text & photos by Knut Torbjørn Moe
Knut Moe is Special Projects Manager at Aerialtronics and has managed drone operations in challenging conditions for five years.