While wandering around Haekel or Tanque roads during the past week, one may have spotted a tiny airplane flying low over the landscape. The craft is far too small to hold a human pilot, but citizens needn’t fear an invasion of tiny pilots. The plane represents a collaboration between the Bureau of Land Management’s national operations office in Denver and the Safford field office and is being used as a safe and cost-effective method of obtaining field data.
The Raven was originally a brainchild of the United States Army and was scheduled for destruction to protect the confidential GPS information it held when the technology became obsolete. Instead, the equipment was handed over to the Department of the Interior for use in monitoring and maintaining the vegetation, invasive species, erosion and fire damage on federal lands.
The 4-pound, hand-launched Raven only spent one week in Graham County – in the San Simon Valley. Due to military aircraft in the area, the Raven was only allowed to fly as high as 400 feet while sending near real-time video images, compass headings and GPS information to its pilot/navigator Lance Brady, formerly of Safford.
This model, which features both front- and side-viewing electro-optical color camera and two infrared thermal nose payloads, is the first of four generations of the technology, and the Safford BLM office is the first in Arizona to have the opportunity to take advantage of its capabilities. Representatives from Forest Service and Safford city government attended the demonstration Oct. 4 and were impressed with the craft’s capabilities. “It’s very possible we could make use of (Raven) as well, to see images of vegetation and land quality in the forest,” said Lance Brown of the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest.