Imagine flying the largest remote-control helicopters in New Zealand for a living? Sounds absurd, but I caught up with Cameron Baker, UAV Pilot for Yamaha NZ, who literally does, and wow, what a change to mundane work stories!
YAMAHA NZ has a drone helicopter industry with a team of trained UAV pilots offering a cost effective and efficient alternative to using a manned helicopter.
What do you actually do?
We use a huge 99kg remote-control helicopter (RMAX) for agricultural work: including weed elimination, seeding native plants/trees and restoration projects. We make working in hazardous areas safer, because we take the man out of the operation and use our unmanned drone instead.
How much does it carry and what is its main purpose?
It’s a carrying platform that can take 28kgs of whatever you can think of. In NZ they are primarily used in agriculture, but we are always looking for new concepts: transporting beehives, drying cherries, frost protection, search and rescue, and powerline surveys. As this is a new industry, the possibilities are ever growing.
How does it work?
It’s a Yamaha 250CC two-stroke, with a six-litre fuel tank, that can fly for up to an hour. The control, similar to remote-control car controllers, allows for sprayer activation and timing. It also boasts a GPS function to maintain the RMAXs position within a two-metre radius even in 40km/h winds — how great for search and rescue.
With two large, eight-litre, interchangeable canisters it has two options: a five-metre boom (a long rod that goes on each side of the helicopter) with two fan nozzles for five-metre width spray swaths; or a single central nozzle for spot spraying. We switch between the two to meet job expectations and requirements resulting in a smooth and continuous process speeding up the job time.
What could it do? What is it doing overseas?
These drones operate in Australia, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the USA and France. In the US spraying Napa Valley grape vines, operational in Japan for 30 years and now spraying 50% of rice paddies with 2500 RMAX helicopters. In Australia they are using them to banner tow advertisements without the need of a full-sized helicopter.
How much does it cost?
Yamaha offers very price-competitive services, currently $650 per onsite hour, with the RMAX and two crew (the pilot and spotter). You’ll be amazed at the work done in a short amount of time!
Why did you choose this career?
It was so different and exciting, and the potential is huge. Not to mention who wouldn’t enjoy playing with the biggest remote-control helicopter in New Zealand for a job?
Anything additional you’d like to add?
For airways safety, using Airshare (airshare.co.nz) is essential. In the future, Yamaha are looking at bringing in a fully autonomous Fazer, the newer generation of the RMAX, which can carry 50kg and weighs up to 150kgs, to do search and rescue, bigger surveys and frost protection.