Super-drone sprayer comes with risks


Robin Martin, Taranaki Reporter

The first unmanned helicopter certified to spray chemicals in New Zealand could ultimately save back-country farmers thousands of dollars but it comes with a hefty price tag – and a safety warning.

The Yamaha RMAX is a beast by drone standards, powered by a 260cc engine and weighing in at close to 100 kilograms.

Yamaha business development manager Geoff Lamb and his team put the chopper through its paces for a gathering of curious farmers, spraying contractors and radio-controlled aircraft enthusiasts at a Lepperton farm in Taranaki this week.

Mr Lamb said the RMAX was not an off-the-shelf toy suitable for hobby buyers.

“Obviously it’s a helicopter; it’s got spinning blades. There’s been some injuries overseas and one guy in South Korea killed himself using this machine because he was standing too close when he took off.

“The rules in New Zealand are a lot more stringent so we make sure we are at least 30 metres away from the machine at all times.”

Last month, the RMAX, which has a payload of 28 kilograms, became the first unmanned helicopter to get Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) certification for commercial use.

Mr Lamb said its potential market in New Zealand would be existing spraying contractors and people who saw an opportunity to get into the business – but, at $160,000 a pop, the aircraft was not cheap.

“It was designed in Japan for agricultural work [so] it’s bigger, heavier, a little riskier and can carry a lot more load. It’s a farm machine, a tool.

“It’s got specific jobs that it will do well: working on steep hillsides, deep gullies and that kind of area where you can’t get to on foot or on a quad bike.”

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