The Eagle Has Landed in North America!

If it is “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” it is not always necessarily warm! In fact, it is downright COLD this week as I join Carl Smith and David Porter from the UltraCam North American Support Team on site at Keystone Aerial Surveys, Inc. We are here to install Keystone’s new UltraCam Eagle, the first delivery in North America of the newest model in the UltraCam series of photogrammetric digital aerial cameras.

Since the announcement of the UltraCam Eagle in May of 2011, we have been disseminating marketing messages that speak to the reduced physical form factor of the Eagle that integrates all compute and storage systems into the sensor head. It is one thing to talk about it and another to witness it firsthand. Upon arriving in the Keystone hangar, I was immediately struck by the minimal amount of containers waiting for us. In the largest was the Eagle camera and the operator panel, the second largest housed the docking station for the solid state data units, the next contained the data units themselves, and in the last container was the power supply.

Of the Keystone fleet of planes, a Cessna 310 was chosen as the platform for the Eagle. The 310 is not quite as roomy as some of Keystone’s other aircraft and this makes the Eagle a better fit. Additionally, this particular plane was already equipped with a stabilized mount that does not require a counterweight ring. This weight reduction, along with the decreased weight of the UltraCam Eagle system (compared to previous generation UltraCam systems) means the difference of roughly 30-40 gallons of fuel which translates to around an hour and a half more flying time, according to Keystone’s Vice President, Ken Potter.

I was impressed with the ease of the installation of the Eagle. The preparation of the system was minimal: changing the mount adapter ring and installing Keystone’s IMU in the port provided in the sensor head. From there it was a matter of getting the camera inside the plane, securing it to the mount, and cabling up to the power supply, operator panel and Keystone’s onboard flight management system (note: less cables than previous UltraCam systems and could be even less if an UltraNav Flight Management and Direct Georeferencing system had been included). Before installing the Eagle, Keystone first had to remove an UltraCamX system from the 310. With the UCX installed there was little room to spare.

The Eagle, by contrast, leaves enough room in the 310 for the crew to install a mini-fridge! (Or, more practically, accommodate luggage for longer travel.)  Keystone camera operator, Drew Falker, was equally impressed as I was, exclaiming “There’s so much room in there!”

This installation was my first opportunity to see the touchscreen operator panel in action. Really nice. Only a light touch is required. The panel also has USB ports to connect a keyboard and that allows log files to be downloaded to a USB stick. Slick.

The total installation required less than half a day. On day two, Keystone flew a successful test flight. Keystone pilot, Tom Dux, commented that the UltraCam Eagle is “a sweet little camera” and that its light weight was appreciably noticeable on take-off, adding that lesser weight is generally safer when flying. (Note: while compact and light, the UltraCam Eagle boasts an impressive PAN image footprint of 20,010 pixels across the flight strip.)

And the results? Prior to our departure from Keystone, the data from the small test flight (roughly 230 images) had been downloaded and the RawQC images processed using UltraMap v2.3. The quickviews looked great and Andrew Raaber of Keystone’s Processing & Development team had this to say: “We haven’t had much time working with the RawQC feature since the upgrade. From the few tests we have done, we have noticed it’s been relatively quick. Having the recovery feature is going to be a huge help to us with those minor issues a crew could have during flight.”

We’ll be posting more photos of the installation at Keystone on our Facebook page and we’ll be sharing more news and Level 02 imagery from Keystone as we receive it. In the meantime, we’re headed back to the warmth of the snowy Colorado!

– Jerry Skaw, Sales & Marketing, Microsoft UltraCam Team

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About UltraCam Team

Vexcel Imaging is a leading provider of digital aerial cameras. Its family of UltraCam aerial sensor products includes the UltraCam Condor, UltraCam Osprey, UltraCam Eagle/EaglePrime, UltraCam Falcon/FalconPrime and and end-to-end processing with UltraMap photogrammetric workflow software. Terrestrial products include the UltraCam Mustang mobile sensor system and the UltraCam Panther portable sensor system.
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