Unmanned planes monitor coast and heathland

In spring 2014, VITO launched a couple of unmanned planes of the Cruiser type for the first time. Within the framework of the European projects LUMEN and AIRBEAM, they will support the coastguard from 2015 onwards with their observation tasks above the North Sea. They will also be used to monitor the Kalmthout heathlands.

The UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) sent up by VITO from the military airport of Weelde in May 2014 are marvels of teledetection. The planes are Cruiser planes that weigh 35 kg and have a wingspan of four metres. They can stay up in the air for four to six hours. They can reach heights of three to four kilometres and can be remotely controlled up to 50 kilometres in distance. Moreover, they can be equipped with hyperspectral sensors, high definition cameras and other high-tech gadgets. Since they have a transponder system at their disposal, which guarantees the safety of Belgian airspace, they can be used to monitor hard-to-reach areas.

Within the framework of the European LUMEN project, the UAVs can be used above the North Sea and Belgian rivers, to watch for flooding or illegal disposal by ships. And within the framework of the AIRBEAM project, they can be used to monitor the Kalmthout heathlands. However, there is one important condition: The law on UAVs, which currently can only be used around model aviation terrains or for research purposes, needs to be adjusted.
 

VITO's role

VITO used UAVs made in Spain and adjusted them for teledetection. VITO hopes to start using the Cruisers from spring 2015 onwards. 

LUMEN: facts & figures
  • Partner project between four European partners from two countries
  • Duration: 24 months
  • Budget: € 1,200,000
     
AIRBEAM : facts & figures
  • Partner project between 21 European partners from 12 countries
  • Duration: 36 months
  • Budget: € 1,300,000
     
The Cruiser planes can reach heights of three to four kilometres and can be remotely controlled up to 50 kilometres in distance. They weigh 35 kg and have a wingspan of four metres. They can stay up in the air for four to six hours.