In 2010, Australian helicopter operator Heliwest decided to compete for a large tender issued by Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) for fire mapping in Western Australia.
To win the contract, Heliwest had to generate accurate, up-to-the-second maps showing the active fire situation. They also had to be able to communicate those maps in real-time to teams on the ground.
With AIMS-ISR, we can provide highly accurate, near-real-time maps of the current fire situation to planners and fire-fighting teams on the ground. Without it, that would be impossible.
The multi-role fire mapping solution
Fortunately, Heliwest had already been using AIMS-ISR by CarteNav Solutions for several years. AIMS-ISR is an ISR mission system software package that provides multi-role integration, geo-referenced moving maps, evidence reporting, SIGINT, custom mapping, and more.
“We had been involved with about four generations of AIMS at that point,” says Tim Hand, Manager of Special Projects at Heliwest. “So, we were very familiar with what the software could do and quite confident it would fulfill the mission. AIMS-ISR was really the only viable option.”
Heliwest won the contract and was fully operational in less than six months, ready to face the upcoming fire season. “CarteNav responded very quickly to our needs and provided great support, which allowed us to quickly become operational,” says Hand.
Easy, efficient map generation
For fire mapping missions, Heliwest typically uses a WESCAM MX-15 gimballed EO/IR sensor and transmits maps to the ground via directional and omnidirectional datalinks. In the right environment, they can also use cellular links.
AIMS-ISR fully integrates with and controls the EO/IR gimbal. This integration allows the operator to map the fire accurately by steering the camera’s boresight around the fire’s perimeter. Map generation and transmission are easy and efficient thanks to AIMS-ISR’s video overlay graphic tools and seamless integration of the stored map with the helicopter’s inertial data, GPS, EO/IR sensor, and datalink.
“We can take sensor photos and video, accurately overlay known reference points, and send those out in bursts over our data comms system,” says Hand.
AIMS-ISR is intuitive and easy to use, allowing firefighters with no previous system experience to quickly become proficient with the software. Heliwest has managed up to three concurrent incidents on a single mission, a feat that requires extreme coordination among all mission participants.
Greater efficiency—both in the air and on the ground
Along with accurate mapping, AIMS-ISR also assists in pre-mission planning and post-mission debriefing and analysis.
“Preloading points means we can use AIMS to drive the sensor – it takes the manual actions out of the workload in the back of the aircraft,” says Hand. “We often use AIMS to auto-slew to street addresses or pre-designated areas, track maps, and provide heading corrections to pilots. It aids in our orientation when we’ve had our heads in the screens a bit long. We also use AIMS to capture reference data for post-processing.” Thanks to that added efficiency, Heliwest has been able to monitor as many as 560 locations in a single mission.
For post-mission support, AIMS-ISR records mission data as well as sensor video – the whole mission can be replayed. Easy geo-referencing dramatically simplifies and speeds up post-mission analysis. Ground teams can track and record the progress of fires very efficiently.
Hand says the ability to take time-tagged, geo-referenced still photos also expedites post-mission analysis and report creation.
“I did a job recently where we pre-programmed every site we needed to visit before we left. All I had to do in-flight was keep my finger over the mouse. Every time I clicked, I knew I was going to record a still image, which was tagged,” says Hand. “After the mission, instead of a guy sitting there, going through all the video, extracting images from it, he could just bring it up and say, ‘Hold on, you’ve taken 560 photos. I’ll just grab those.’ It practically eliminated his post-processing workload. Those pictures will tell you the whole story. You don’t need to sit there and watch hours of video to figure out what played out.”
Fast, cost-effective linear surveillance
Heliwest employs AIMS-ISR not only for fire mapping but on a variety of missions, including linear surveillance.
Heliwest frequently receives contracts to survey gas pipelines, power lines, and fibre-optic link corridors to assess where servicing is needed. Points that need servicing must be logged and geo-referenced accurately, so repair crews don’t have to waste time searching for them. In Western Australia, such deployments can cover vast areas of remote desert terrain.
Once, these missions typically took months. Now, with AIMS-ISR, Heliwest can complete deployments across a couple of Australian states in only three or four days, an impressive feat when considering that Western Australia alone is nearly four times the size of Texas.
“A lot of it is out in the back of the desert, flying a line through scrub in the back of nowhere,” says Hand. “If you miss a spot, it’s going to cost you $10,000 due to KPI performance clauses. But we can tag that spot in AIMS-ISR and get it accurate to a couple of meters. We can provide still images. We can overlay those with maps and various markers. That makes it much easier for us to give clients context—show them where things are. If they’ve got to send someone on a road journey of several hours out in the middle of nowhere, it makes it quite easy to ensure that you get them to the right spot.”
Ideal for airborne law enforcement
Another sector where AIMS-ISR helps Heliwest earn business is airborne law enforcement (ALE).
Being able to identify reference points on the ground quickly is crucial to coordinating efforts with ground units. Afterwards, being able to promptly reconstruct events and compile evidence into reports during post-mission analysis helps investigators build a solid case.
AIMS-ISR features that are ideal for ALE include in-video street overlays, a comprehensive street address lookup database, and time-stamped geo-referenced video logging.
“Having those sorts of street-based moving maps is very important to us. The ability to auto slew to an address puts us in the ballpark to start searches,” says Tim Hand. Street overlays also make it easy to relay locations to ground units during a search or pursuit.
Hand says being able to mark events in the video log greatly simplifies post-mission processing.
“We’ll often take snapshots of places of interest along the way. During a pursuit, we might see something thrown from a vehicle. Maybe we’re doing some environmental monitoring, and we witness someone dumping chemicals, or we note a suspicious run-off. With just a series of cursor clicks, we can lay a breadcrumb trail for further investigation and gather evidence for our report. It allows us to break up hours of video footage into a timeline of discrete events. Later, we can go back through those photos and quickly build a clear picture of how that event played out.”
Enhanced search and rescue
Based on Australia’s west coast, Heliwest is often involved in search and rescue missions over the vast ocean or the barren wilderness.
“If you’re conducting a search over water or desert, it’s hard to get accurate reference points relative to what you see,” says Hand. “On the other hand, when you’ve got all your sensors integrated with your GPS, as you do with AIMS-ISR, all you have to do is slew your cursors to what you see, click on it, and you’ve got it geo-referenced. You lay down your breadcrumb trail as you go along. Then you can go back later and put all those data points together.”
AIMS-ISR uses digital terrain elevation data (DTED) to display terrain-corrected sensor footprints. This enhanced elevation data enables accurate recording of the area that has been searched by the sensor during a mission. Search information can be automatically exported as a report to Google Earth and used to populate the mission plan for the hand-over mission.
“You get an accurate overall picture of the situation: what you’ve covered, any evidence you’ve found, and where you need to extend or intensify your search,” says Hand.
One software load—many missions—more business
Hand believes using AIMS-ISR on a variety of different missions helps operators gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the system’s capabilities and benefits.
“We use the same AIMS-ISR software, no matter what the platform or mission—SAR, ALE, fire monitoring, linear surveillance, oil spill monitoring, damage assessment and so forth,” says Hand. “It allows us to make huge efficiencies across our fleet and mission tasking.”
“What has surprised me—having personally used AIMS-ISR in many operational contexts and with a broad array of sensor over the years—is how the system has been adaptable to such a wide range of tasks.” If you’re only using it for one type of mission, he adds, you might use only a small portion of the functionality. Using it in a variety of contexts, on the other hand, can help you understand how to make broader use of the functionality in each of those contexts.
“It’s using skills developed across such a wide plethora of operations that really make you appreciate what the system can provide. By working across a broad range of tasks, we see more of its depth. It gives us a few more tricks up our sleeve. Ultimately, it improves the work we do.”
Hand credits Heliwest’s experience with both CarteNav and AIMS-ISR over nearly fifteen years as a catalyst for winning new business.
AIMS is critical to all our sensor payload missions, It’s the brains behind those missions. It helps us win many contracts we would not be able to compete for otherwise. It gave us the confidence we could go after those tenders and deliver on the specifications, knowing AIMS-ISR wasn’t going to cause us any trouble along the way. We know it’s going to be there, and it’s going to work.
Responsive, reliable support
Heliwest does most of their engineering and systems integration in-house, but CarteNav’s frequent upgrades to the software have been instrumental in the growth of the services Heliwest offers. Hand says Heliwest is always looking to capitalize on new AIMS-ISR capabilities. For example, they will soon expand their use of AIMS-ISR beyond their manned fleet with integration on some of their UAVs.
Tim Hand expects AIMS-ISR will continue to help Heliwest compete for new business, and he credits CarteNav’s customer support as a huge factor in Heliwest’s success with AIMS-ISR.
CarteNav has been very active and reliable in supporting us over the years,” he says. “They’ve been very responsive to our requests for modifications and additional features. They’ve often gone the extra mile, providing extended field support to make sure integrations were 100% successful, and our missions are accomplished to our customers’ satisfaction. All our experience with CarteNav has been positive.