Aerial Photography Using Light Sport Aircraft
Lowe, ES 555,
A revolution in light aviation
technology has been occurring in North America and Europe over the past
two decades. Having its inception in hang gliding and ultralight
aircraft, usually built by owners from kits, the light sportplane has
become the successor to the Cessnas, Pipers, Taylorcraft, and other
marques which popularised general aviation in the decades following
World War II. In combination with increasingly affordable digital
camera and image processing technology, the light sportplane has become
a platform for recreational, commercial, and scientific imagery
acquisition previously reserved for the well-capitalized specialty
aerial photography industry.
A light sport aircraft
(LSA) is defined by the United States Federal Aviation Agency as an aircraft meeting the following criteria:
- A maximum takeoff weight of not more than
- 660 pounds (300 kilograms) for lighter-than-air
- 1,320 pounds (600 kilograms) for aircraft not
intended for operation on water; or
- 1,430 pounds (650 kilograms) for an aircraft
intended for operation on water.
- A maximum airspeed in level flight with maximum
(VH) of not more than 120 knots CAS under standard atmospheric
conditions at sea level.
- A maximum never-exceed speed (VNE) of not more
than 120 knots CAS for a glider.
- A maximum stalling speed or minimum steady flight
speed without the
use of lift-enhancing devices (VS1) of not more than 45 knots CAS at
the aircraft's maximum certificated takeoff weight and most critical
center of gravity.
- A maximum seating capacity of no more than two
persons, including the pilot.
- A single, reciprocating engine, if powered.
- A fixed or ground-adjustable propeller if a
powered aircraft other than a powered glider.
- A fixed or autofeathering propeller system if a
- A fixed-pitch, semi-rigid, teetering, two-blade
rotor system, if a gyroplane.
- A nonpressurized cabin, if equipped with a cabin.
- Fixed landing gear, except for an aircraft
intended for operation on water or a glider.
- Fixed or repositionable landing gear, or a hull,
for an aircraft intended for operation on water.
- Fixed or retractable landing gear for a glider.
impetus for the development and popularization of the LSA has been cost
of ownership and operation, as well as innovations in airframe, engine,
navigation, and communications components which make the choice of an
LSA attractive comapred to similary priced used legacy light aircraft
from the more traditional manufacturers. These manufacturers have
also largely abandoned the personal aircraft segment of the market,
owing to product liability concerns as well as the demands of the more
lucrative business aircraft market.
used in acquiring the images in this report is the Challenger II, a
product of Quad City Challenger, Inc., of Moline, IL. One of the
oldest manufacturers of ultralight aircraft and LSA's, Quad City
produces two basic models, the Challenger I, a single-seat, FAA part
103 ultralight; and the Challenger II, a two-seat (tandem) LSA and
utralight trainer. Both are available in a long-wing version,
maximizing glide ratio, and a clipped-wing version, maximizing
speed. Both are pusher configurations, and both can be fitted
with floats, allowing amphibious operation.
of The Challenger II seen here, is "raw", i.e, not enhanced
in brightness or sharpness.
of The Challenger II seen here, is enhanced
in brightness or sharpness using GIMP 2. The pods beneath
the wings are for storage.
Florida and the Ocala National Forest:
the eastern periphery of Ocala National Forest, Deland, Florida has
known as a quaint "Old Florida" town, home of Stetson University and
winter refuge for northern gentility, as well as having a southern
gentility of its own. A thriving arts community is present,
attracted by the architecture and ambience, and insulated from the
tourist centers of Orlando and Daytona Beach. It has been called
"the Athens of Florida", presumably referring to the cradle of
democracy rather than the home of the "Dawgs". (3)
Forest lies between the St. Johns and Oklawaha rivers in Central
Florida, comprising parts of Marion, Putnam, and Lake Counties, and
containing 383,573 acres within its
boundaries. Lake George, one of Florida's largest, is to the
immediate east. Forestation includes long-leaf pines, sand pines,
and several species of short-leaf pines and hardwoods. Bisecting
the forest from north to south is the Florida Trail, a 60.8 mile hiking
trail suited for observing the flora and fauna, which include deer,
bear, raccoons, bobcats, alligators, snakes, and many bird
species. Camping and canoeing can be found at the Alexander
Springs and Juniper Springs recreation areas. The following
images were taken from an approximate altitude of 1100 ft. (4)
vertical high-oblique scene of a residential area NW of Deland,
Fl. Note deciduous trees.
agricultural area near Lake George. The black rectangular
structures are screen houses for growing ornamental ferns.
lower-oblique image of the agricultural area, with Lake George seen in
the upper right corner.
A lake NW of
Deland. The shadow of the airplane appears in the upper left, and
part of a wing strut is seen in the lower right.
DeLeon Springs State Park:
Deleon Springs, named
for the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce Deleon, is located about 4 miles NW
of Deland Municipal Airport. It is a favorite recreation
area for the locals, affording swimming at 72 degrees,
kayaking , canoeing, and paddle-boating, and observation of wildlife
along the 4 mile Wild Persimmon Trail, and in the Lake Woodruff
|Aerial view of Deleon
Springs swimming area, taken from about
after turning and descending for a better look.
On the morning of June 21, 2008, at about 8:30 AM, the author and a
certified flight instructor from U-Fly-It Aviation, Inc. of Deland
Florida, embarked from Deland Municipal Airport with the dual purpose
of obtaining a variety of interesting images and for the author, the
first flying lesson in about 16 years. Our bearing was NW, in
order to fly away from the sun and to obtain some good imagery of the
forest, lakes, small towns, agricultural areas, and springs in the
area. We flew over Deleon Springs, the small towns of Pierson and
Astor, to within sight of Lake George, then back to the airport along
US highway 17. Along the way, the author photographed whatever
targets of opportunity presented themselves. Some of these images
are displayed below, reduced to 12.5 percent in each axis.
Taking off: The Deland Municipal Airport and industrial park.
airpark near Pierson, Fla.
the runway on the downwind leg. We will turn base leg, then land
on the grass next to the runway.
rain. Skydivers can be seen in the lower center of image.
Acquisition and Enhancement:
used in the acquisition of these images is a Canon A590 IS, having an
8-megapixel capacity, with a 4x zoom lens and optical image
stabilization, and a 2.5 in. color LCD monitor. This model has
received consistently high reviews and is quite affordable at under 200
Image processing was performed with GIMP 2, a freeware equivalent of
Adobe Photoshop. Images were first brightened using the color
level parameters 40-1-240, then sharpened with the unsharp feature
using a radius of 3.0, an amount of 30 percent, and a threshhold of
Photography from light sport aircraft has distinct advantages over kite
or balloon photography in the aspect of control. The images can
be selected for content as they are acquired, the geographic area of
coverage is much greater, and the investigator is not at the mercy of
the wind. Considering its affordability, use of the LSA, together
with an inexpensive digital camera, brings aerial photography to most
of those interested enough to try it. It's also fun.
United States Ultralight Association
summary of FAA criteria
2. "The Florida Atlas and Gazetteer", DeLorme Map Company, 1989.
3. "The Deland Fall Festival of the Arts"
4. "Ocala National Forest" (http://www.stateparks.com/ocala.html).