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Drone Helicopters for Spraying Crops

May 20, 2014
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Drone helicopters are replacing traditional techniques for spraying crops in Japan.

Drone helicopters are replacing traditional techniques for spraying crops in Japan.

Drone helicopters are quickly finding their place as efficient tools within the Japanese agricultural industry.

Drone helicopters specifically designed for crop spraying and inspection are well suited for use over confined farming land with numerous obstacles.  Drones do not have the same drawbacks or carry the same risks as alternative ground or aerial spray application methods.

Rice paddies and other farming plots in Japan tend to provide exceedingly poor access to farmers for servicing of crops once planted.

Irregularly shaped plots scattered over the semi-rural landscapes are closely entwined with a multitude of barriers and confinements in surrounding infrastructure.   Deep drains, pump  houses, power lines, communication towers, houses and roads all become access barriers and dangerous aerial hazards when it comes time to spray crops.

A drone helicopter sprays a Wheat crop in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan.

A large drone helicopter sprays a wheat crop in Japan.
(Click to Enlarge Image)

Aerial spraying methods using full sized, piloted helicopters are often used in Japan.  It can be costly; requires suitable aerial access over crops; and prompts considerable over-spray and noise pollution concerns around waterways and near communities.  It also carries high risks for pilots forced to fly at low altitude amongst high tension powerlines and other obstacles.

Access for treatment of crops via back mounted hand sprayer, or tractor mounted boom spray is generally difficult, inefficient and damaging to such small acreage crops.   The water embankments of rice paddies are also easily flattened and damaged with the traverse of heavy tractor tyres.

Drones are relatively cheap, efficient and maneuverable.  They require only a single operator controlling the low level flight of the aircraft remotely from the ground.  All major advantages.

An operator uses a drone helicopter sprays a wheat crop on a typical growing plot in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan.

An operator uses a drone helicopter sprays a wheat crop on a typical growing plot in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan.
(Click to Enlarge Image)

Commonly used drones have a spray pass width of approximately 8-10 feet at normal operating altitude above crops.   Spray path adjustments required for weather and wind in the immediate vicinity can be made easily during each spray pass.   This makes crop spray coverage more accurate, more cost effective and safer for the surrounding environment.

Drones helicopters tend to be relatively small and lightweight.  Currently used models are approximately 7 feet in length and 3 feet in height.   They are much larger than standard remote control helicopters flown by RC hobbyists, but remain easily transportable from a service provider’s premises to working sites using only a small tray top truck.

Once on site, drone helicopters can be offloaded by as few as two people and flown safely in  confined areas amongst numerous obstacles.  Spraying is fast and efficient.

No Registration or Helipads Required

The helicopters do not require registered helipads for takeoffs and landings as normally required by aviation law for all piloted helicopters in Japan.  Further, there is no specific requirement for airport based aviation hangers for storage, or for use of costly engine time while getting to and from the work site from hangering.

Agricultural plots in Japan are often small, confined areas with numerous obstacles and barriers to access in the surrounds.

Agricultural plots in Japan are often small, confined areas with numerous obstacles and barriers to access in the vicinity. An environment well suited to drone helicopter sprayers.
(Click to Enlarge Image)

Spray and fuel tanks can be filled and re-filled on site by a minimal support crew.  There is no need to return to an off-site refuelling / refilling base.

Improved Safety and Access

Safety and aerial access to crops is greatly improved, as no pilot is ever at risk of hitting the numerous obstacles and flight hazards that commonly present themselves over rice paddies and other rural areas in Japan. This allows drones to spray in confined areas, or close to waterways and public spaces with greater precision and lowered risk of over-spray or wind drift.

Wastage, over-spray and risk of damage to fragile crops from a drone’s rotor down-wash is also minimal compared to piloted helicopter spraying techniques.

Due to recent accidents (and a death where an assistant was killed by drone helicopter blades), the legal requirements for flying and serviceing commercial agricultural drone helicopters in Japan have become more strict than they once were, but they are not the same or anywhere near as costly as maintaining regular commercial aircraft.

Service and Maintenance Benefits

On the ground as well as in the regulation books, drone helicopters are cheap and easier to service relative to full sized agricultural spray helicopters.  Drones can be fixed and serviced by technicians on site if required during breakdowns. 

These machines are clearly suited to Japanese farming environments and offer many benefits over more traditional spraying methods.  We expect drone helicopters to become a very common and important part of the agricultural scenery over coming years.





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