A Trip to Tuck Mapping Solutions, Virginia

Robyn Brown

June 2012

ES 555 Small Format Aerial Photography
Emporia State University

Aerial photo of Powell Valley
Image taken on 6/12 by R. Brown


I had the privilege of visiting Tuck Mapping Solutions (TMS) which is located in a rural area in southwestern Virginia. They specialize in various areas of aerial photography and mapping. The owner and operator, Robert Tuck, had a great interest in aerial photography and began the business 27 years ago in his home town of Big Stone Gap. They have expanded the business internationally and employ approximately 40 staff members. TMS is one of the leading companies in the nation in technology on LIDAR. They operate 3 helicopters, 1 single engine airplane and a twin engine airplane. They work with numerous companies worldwide and administer a variety of jobs. For more information on Tuck Mapping Solutions check out Tuck Mapping

Another aerial photo of Powell Valley
Image taken on 6/12 by R. Brown

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Tour of Tuck

Robert Tuck was gracious enough to take me on a tour of his facility. Tuck Mapping consists of several departments which includes aerial mapping, stereoscopic 3D imagery, photogrammetry, surveying, and LIDAR. He took me to each division and I had the opportunity to observe and ask questions in all areas. However, I chose to spend more time at the 3D imagery station. I met several of the employees who were extremely inviting and they were excited to show me some of their past projects. They map rock quarries around the nation using the GIS software Vulcan. They check and map inventories for coal companies once per month. I was able to get the full experience by wearing the polarized 3D glasses while an employee was mapping a coal pile inventory for a mining company in Kentucky. Other jobs include mapping areas that are needing to expand such as roads and theme parks, in particular, Dollywood and Dollywood's Splash Country. Everything that can be mapped such as parking lots, power poles, street lights, vehicles, trees, and bushes are mapped with extreme accuracy. A mappers job is exceptionally tedious. I was able to see a finished map of Dollywood's Theme Park and a nuclear plant located in Germany along with its parking lots, power poles, street lights, etc. They also conducted mapping for 911 addresses in my hometown of Grundy, VA.

Another section of TMS was LIDAR. They will take a helicopter out to acquire images and return with the data. The data is then uploaded and put into a software that will interpret the points taken from the LIDAR. It will paint a picture from those points to make the actual image. The specialist can then omit anything that they do not want in the image. This option of editing, omitting or adding, takes place in all departments. It depends on what is needed from the company that is wanting a particular image.

Southern facing view of Powell Valley
Image taken on 6/12 by R. Brown

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Their equipment on board the helicopters are VQ-480 and LMS Q-680i LIDAR systems which are a long-range airborne laser scanners (Riegal USA, 2011), a Trimble Digital Sensor System (DSS) which produces accurate high resolution color and color-infrared digital images (Applanix, 2011), a video camera, and a GPS system. In the helicopter, they can get within 1/4" accuracy in the vertical. In the airplane, they can get within 3"-4" accuracy in the vertical. They use the LIDAR on the helicopters only. The amount of data collected on the helicopters are up to 2 terabytes. They calibrate their equipment often.

The stereography 3D imagery department utilizes two types of 3D glasses, polarized and charged. These charged 3D glasses works by sending a beam to the sensor located on the desk to the left side of the monitor. The beam bounces off the sensor and gets transmitted back to the glasses allowing one to see the depth of the image, which, in turn is a 3D image. The glasses are awkward and uncomfortable unlike the polarized glasses. They are eventually upgrading all 3D glasses to this type at the facility.

TMS contains a dark room where they develop their images that are acquired from the missions. They can only develop them digitally in black and white at the facility, otherwise the images are sent off if they need a colored photo. They also have infrared film which is kept in the freezer. Infrared film needs to stay frozen as it deteriorates quickly, it has a shelf life of only a couple of days. When they use the infrared film, they let it thaw out for one day and use it as soon as possible.

West facing view of Powell Valley
Image taken on 6/12 by R. Brown

Aerial image of Powell Valley's urban area
Image taken on 6/12 by R. Brown

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My Helicopter Adventure

I had the opportunity to ride in one of the helicopters and it contained the LMS Q-680i (Riegal USA, 2011), a video camera, and a GPS unit. I flew over Powell Valley which is a picturesque location in Big Stone Gap. This is the most calibrated site on Earth because this is the area they use to calibrate their equipment and the accuracies are extremely close. I took several aerial photos with a digital canon camera. I spent the entire day at this facility and learned quite a bit about aerial photography, aerial mapping, 3D imagery, and photogrammetry. The highlight of the trip for me was seeing and riding in the helicopter. They are planning to set up a time in the future where I can actually go on a mission with them and see the entire process from flying a mission to developing the images.

The helicopter I rode in
Image taken on 6/12 by R. Brown

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Intellithought. 2012.Tuck Mapping Solutions, Inc

Thomas Net Web Solutions. 2011. Riegal USA

Applanix Corp. 2011. Cameras

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