Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

RCMP turn to eyes in the sky

Mini-helicopters put to work at crash sites, crime scenes

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HEADINGLEY -- Manitoba RCMP have unveiled their latest investigative tool -- unmanned aerial vehicles.

Similar to the toy remote-controlled helicopters sold in shopping malls, a shiny black UAV was put through its aerial paces in a deserted baseball field Thursday afternoon.

Unlike the shopping-mall versions, this extensively modified helicopter is about one metre long and carries a high-resolution digital SLR camera.

The vehicle carries a price tag of $20,000.

Cpl. Byron Charbonneau said the UAV will be used to take aerial photos and videos at traffic collisions, crime scenes and in search-and-rescue operations, adding the images will provide invaluable information to investigators and improve the quality of evidence.

"It adds another dimension to all of our investigations," Charbonneau, one of two RCMP officers trained to operate the devices, said.

"When you're standing on the ground, you get a two-dimensional perspective of the world around you.

"When you get a top-level view, it adds a third perspective to your investigation."

Charbonneau, a forensic traffic reconstruction analyst, said use of the UAV is regulated by licence from Transport Canada, adding the RCMP is not authorized to use it for surveillance purposes.

Charbonneau said the UAVs' limitations would make them unsuitable for surveillance work. They have a maximum flight time of 13 minutes and are restricted to flying no higher than 100 metres.

Charbonneau said the RCMP opted to go for a custom-modified device to make it suitable for conditions in Manitoba. He said the modified UAV can be flown in extreme winter temperatures and in winds up to 60 or 80 km/h -- conditions off-the-shelf products cannot handle.

Similar units are used by the RCMP in Saskatchewan and B.C.

These units will be operating out of Dauphin and Brandon. Insp. Joanne Keeping, head of RCMP traffic services in Manitoba, said the UAVs' deployment has been determined by where the pilots are based. She said there are plans to train more pilots and additional UAVs could be purchased later.

Keeping said the UAVs can be used in situations where conventional aircraft or helicopters are not suited or when they might not be available, adding they are also considerably less expensive to operate than conventional aircraft.

What is it?

A modified remote-controlled helicopter (a Fusion Outrage 50), like the ones sold in shopping malls, but this one is about a metre long, and also carries a high-resolution digital SLR camera that can be spun 360 degrees, independent of the UAV.

The UAV is manufactured in Saskatchewan and composed mostly of carbon fibre and aluminum.

It has a combined weight of about 4.5 kilograms, including the camera and its support system.


Maximum flying time: 13 minutes.


Maximum flying height: 100 metres.


Cost: $20,000 each, including high-res digital SLR camera, camera support, monitor, base station and case.


What is it used for?

D (Manitoba) Division's traffic services and forensic identification units will use the UAVs to capture aerial photos and videos of traffic collisions, crime scenes and search-and-rescue operations.

The UAV will provide live photo and video streaming to the controller, which will be used in evidence-gathering.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 24, 2012 A9

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