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Wednesday, 05 October 2016 16:28

Eyes in the sky

Written by 
Ravensdown pilot Grant Lennox. Ravensdown pilot Grant Lennox.

A pilot's perspective on the latest aerial spreading research from Ravensdown.

In its third year, Ravensdown’s Primary Growth Partnership programme ‘Pioneering to Precision’ is starting to gather momentum. With Ravensdown pilot Grant Lennox’s unique perspective from above, he tells us just what he’s seen out and about as part of the research team, spreading fertiliser on the research farms.

“Timing is so important when it comes to aerial spreading. You’re travelling very quickly so you need lead in time to open and shut the hopper doors. Before this programme we (pilots) have been anticipating when to do this, which means you’re not always able to give your full attention to flying the plane safely,” Grant says.

“The programme has removed the guess-work for me with the GPS computer automating the hopper door, so now I can just focus on flying. It also is satisfying to see the consistency and how tidy every boundary can be because the doors are working with the scientists’ ballistic modelling and shutting the doors more accurately than I ever could.”

Because fertiliser travels so fast, and takes a while to slow down, the science behind the particle movement is being tested by placing bins across varying topography to catch what Ravensdown pilots like Grant are throwing down.

“It’s a little bit like throwing a ball I suppose. I think it’s great, the research is improving the accuracy substantially and is making my life a lot easier. The farmer is also getting a lot better result at the end of the day because we’re not wasting any fertiliser, it’s going exactly where it’s supposed to.”

Grant says it’s been great being a part of the research, “There’s a great team working together from Massey, AgResearch and Ravensdown. I’ve learnt a lot about the GPS technology and fertiliser properties and how it is all connected through the Smart Maps system. It has given me more of a general overview and made my job a lot more enjoyable.”

Grant believes there is definite improvement in the quality and accuracy of spreading due to the research.

“Without a doubt, in the field projects we are getting better results than before. There is a growing interest in the technology, I guess it’s just a time thing until the science can be proven.”

“On one of the trails there was a bit of time in-between flights, so I went to talk to the team who were unloading the catching trays and I could see the cover was quite even – it backs up what we’re trying to achieve and it’s great to see. Bearing in mind I’m not a scientist and I’m only looking at it from the naked eye, the scientists may be seeing something different when they measure the sample spread and rate.”

The computer programme in the plane interacts with Ravensdown Smart Maps using the soil test results to deliver what variable rate of spreading will be required, instructing the GPS in the plane to spread just that and then showing exactly where it landed with the Placement Verification Technology that is being developed. This is something that regional councils could be interested in as they become more and more interested in where the fertiliser is landing rather than where it is released.

“I’ve been aerial spreading for 11 years and this is the way things are going, if Ravensdown can make the whole PGP thing work then it really will be a game changer. From my perspective with the variable rate equipment it is going very well, knowing what I know now if I was a farmer I would insist on it.”

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