Surveillance Gear Boosts CAP Role

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It'll undoubtedly be handy in a search, but the digital camera/computer combination now being tested on some Civil Air Patrol (CAP) aircraft can do a lot more than pinpoint wreckage. In fact, the hyperspectral enhanced reconnaissance system is the same basic hardware used by military patrol aircraft, but it's been scaled down to fit in a Gippsland GA-8 Airvan, an Australian utility aircraft picked for the duty because of its large capacity and modest purchase price ($400,000) and operating costs. A belly-mounted camera supplies images to the large-screen computer console installed in the boxy airplane's passenger/cargo area. The result is a view of the world below and memory that human eyes and brainpower can't match. The computer constantly analyzes the image, picking out things that seem out of place (metal in a field) or even noticing things that weren't there the last time images were collected over the same area. When such anomalies are spotted, the operator can e-mail the image over a satellite to headquarters and all the imagery can be downloaded for analysis after landing. The system is expected to be installed on 16 Airvans to be distributed to CAP units throughout the U.S., thus greatly increasing domestic surveillance capability at relatively low cost.