IS IT a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a UAV – that’s an Unmanned Airborne Vehicle, or drone, as they are better known, and widely associated with military operations in conflict zones such as Afghanistan.
Thankfully, when one was deployed above Elie beach recently it was armed with a camera and not bombs and was capturing striking images of a giant sand artwork – part of the East Neuk Festival – rather than enemy installations.
The Manta UAV is a flying wing, with no nose or tail, measuring around 165cms. It is made mostly of foam, with no undercarriage, and weighs in at just two kilos.
Operating the UAV was former RAF pilot turned photographer Nigel King.
While he does have a fully-automated UAV which can be pre-programmed using the same autopilot technology carried by lethal Predator drones, the Manta is manually operated, with Nigel in control from the ground once it is launched.
At heights up to 400ft, an image is taken every three seconds from a high-end digital camera.
“The conditions at Elie were great for taking pictures,” Nigel said.
“I did five flights over two-and-a-half hours to show the design at different stages.”
With his two UAVs, which must be licensed by the Central Aviation Authority, Nigel also works with university researchers and local authorities carrying out detailed mapping and monitoring coastal erosion.
The UAVs can provide simple aerial images, aerial video photography, which can be viewed in realtime through a datalink to the aircraft, and wide-area, high-resolution image mapping.