Saturday 21 and Saturday 28 March 2015
As part of the Australian Civil Air Patrols (AusCAP) ongoing improvement processes a two part trial using an MSA Evolution 6000 Thermal Imaging Camera was conducted. This particular camera is used by various emergency service organisations to locate persons during times of disaster. Given AusCAP is a search and locate organisation, it was decided to locate and borrow a camera to be used by our observers for a trial in an aircraft in flight to ascertain effectiveness through distance (air to ground/water) and windscreens of aircraft.
The trial commenced on Saturday 21 March by introducing the device to the members of AusCAP. This included an overview and instruction on characteristics, tabulated data, battery life, fitting and removal plus practical operation of the Camera.
During the introductory stage a series of scans were conducted which included aiming the camera at various objects to identify the heat source. In all cases, the camera was very effective when aimed at people around the airport and taxying aircraft indicating the engine exhaust systems. The camera was also effective in locating cabling inside buildings as a result of heat generated by the electrical cabling.
Following the above applications two members sat inside a parked aircraft to ascertain if the camera would locate a heat source through the windshields of an aircraft. This was not successful as there was no return image which presented a blank screen. We did however; receive a reflection from the windshield.
The camera was then placed behind a piece of glass this however, was the same outcome as the windshield trial.
On Saturday 28 March 2015 the Australian Civil Air Patrol (AusCAP) flew a trial mission in a Cessna 172S aircraft piloted by Squadron Leader Graham Williams and Observer Gerard Buchtmann to assess the effectiveness of the MSA Evolution 6000 Thermal Imaging Camera through the side window of an aircraft in flight. The track taken for the flight was out of Bankstown to Parramatta then down the exit lane to Patonga onto The Entrance. Once established on a southbound track just off the coast we then descended to 700 feet and slowed the aircraft down to 80 knots. Gerard then inserted the battery into the camera and commenced the trial through the closed aircraft window to locate heat sources on the ground/beach. As expected, the outcome was the same as for phase one.
After a thorough safety check of the safety cable attached to Gerard and to the camera we descended to 500 feet. At this point Gerard opened the window and commenced to take images of vehicles in parking areas, people on the beach and swimming. Due to the limited space available the camera could not be positioned to allow full and free operation in an upright position. However, and given the window issue, the camera did locate heat generated from people both on the beach and in the water, swimmers would only show heat from body parts not submerged in water. There were no images presented by vehicles at any stage.
With the flight phase trials completed we then climbed to 2000ft and returned to Bankstown via the lane of entry. Although our return was normal, we did notice a large fire towards Bankstown. This turned out to be a factory fire North West of Bankstown Airport. As
we approached, the fire appeared to be directly in our intended flight path from Prospect to Bankstown. We discussed our options should we have to manoeuvre around the smoke so we could inform the tower of our intentions, and made the inbound call. As it turned out the fire was to the left of our path and the smoke presented no issues which allowed us a normal flight path to Bankstown. However, we did discuss the possibility of media aircraft in the area. We scanned the area ahead but could not see any other aircraft. I then contacted Bankstown Tower to confirm if any aircraft appeared on their radar and, to our relief, the area was clear.
On return to AusCAP HQ co-located with Basair located at Bankstown Airport, Squadron Leader Williams and Observer Gerard Buchtmann debriefed members on the flight and trial. The debriefing included the following:
Operation with the window closed
Operation with window opened
Difficulty with space available when the window is opened (in this aircraft)
Ability to hold the camera steady in slipstream
Actual size of the returning image (not really distinguishable)
It is recommended that a further trial be conducted using our own members in a field environment. The trial should be conducted in an aircraft which allows the window to be opened to a point whereby the camera can be focused fully upright but not in the slipstream of the aircraft.
The MSA Evolution 6000 Thermal Imaging Camera is a very good camera. Our trial was specifically to see if the camera was effective in an aviation role. The trial conducted was the first of this kind using this type of equipment. Although the results were not favourable this time does not mean the issue is closed. I hope to conduct a further flight to explore more operational options. We will continue to trial new equipment and processes with the aim of enhancing our team and individual skills.
On behalf of the Board of Directors and the members of The Australian Civil Air Patrol I would like to thank Debbie Taylor, Sales Manager MSA, for loaning and allowing us to trial the camera for possible use in search and locate operations. Without this support our journey of improvement would be much more difficult.
I would also like to thank Gerard Buchtmann (Observer) for negotiating the loan of the camera through Debbie and MSA.
Australian Civil Air Patrol