Civil Aviation Ministry allows drone flights at night to target locusts

Anna University’s indigenously built aerial vehicle deployed in Rajasthan, Gujarat

June 29, 2020 11:54 pm | Updated 11:54 pm IST - CHENNAI

Cutting edge: The drone has a 60% larger pesticide tank and three times the flying endurance of other aerial vehicles.

Cutting edge: The drone has a 60% larger pesticide tank and three times the flying endurance of other aerial vehicles.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation has accorded sanction to a proposal for flying engine-operated drones at night to target and destroy clusters of locusts across North-Western and Central States.

In a first, permission was given to fly the drones, each weighing about 50 kg, to spray chemicals on the locusts swarming on huge trees in Rajasthan and Gujarat close to international borders.

The drones — dual power (petrol & battery) based rotary wing Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) — were indigenously designed and developed by the Centre for Aerospace Research (CASR), Anna University, Chennai. They have 60% larger pesticide tank capacity and three times more flying endurance compared to other aerial vehicles, making it more effective in the mission to eradicate locusts that were posing a threat to crops, CARS Director K. Senthil Kumar told The Hindu on Monday.

Target clusters

Also equipped with thermal imaging systems, the drones would be airborne in the deserts of Barmer and Jaisalmer districts of Rajasthan from Monday onwards to zero in on and eliminate locust clusters. CASR had written to the Ministry of Civil Aviation seeking inclusion of the specially designed RPAS in the conditional exemption granted to Central government entities for COVID-19 and anti-Locust related operations.

Explaining the salient features of the dual-power based rotor wing RPAS over the battery operated ones, Dr. Kumar said the number of take-offs, endurance, fuel capacity, engine service and battery life of the former was proven to be much better. On the safety front, the dual-power aerial vehicle would not crash even if the battery drained. Three drones were already deployed and efforts were on to make 15 more soon, he said. The model, first of its kind in the world, was environment friendly with minimum use of batteries and most suitable for field operations, to identify locust settlements in the field even during the night. The system would prove effective to control the spread of COVID-19 pandemic and especially the locust attack in Rajasthan and Gujarat, where food security of the nation was challenged.

In a note Amber Dubey, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, said “Congratulations to the Agriculture Ministry for receiving the approvals for night operation of drones and use of engine-powered drones with all-up weight upto 50 kg for anti-locust ops.

“This is the first such instance in India…Night operations are more effective since the locust are literally caught napping then. Good to see the growing use cases for drones in the agriculture sector.”

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