Airborne quadbike

Photo of an RMAX unmanned helicopter, with pilot Greg Harris and spotter Corey Hulsey on the groundPilot Greg Harris (left) and spotter Corey Hulsey demonstrated the RMAX.

PHOTO: Paul Jones

Under the watchful eyes of news media, along with a handful of growers and local dignitaries, a radio-controlled helicopter flew over some steep, scrub terrain precisely spraying water from two eight-litre tanks on either side of its fuselage.

The motorcycle-sized RMAX unmanned helicopter made by Yamaha was being demonstrated near Camden, New South Wales, to show its potential for precision in-crop weed spraying and for use as a crop sensor platform.

But, before you grab your chequebook, they are not cheap and they are not for sale to individuals. Costing a hefty $120,000, the intention is for the units to be used by specialist contractors. Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority requires these remote-controlled helicopters to be manned by a trained two-person team: a controller and a spotter.

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones is only just beginning to attract grower interest in Australia, although the technology has become common in other countries.

More than 70 per cent of Japan’s rice crops, for example, are said to now be sprayed using UAVs.The unit demonstrated at Camden has a payload of 28 kilograms. It was fitted with a spray applicator system and can spray at up to 24 kilometres per hour.

The demonstration pilot, Greg Harris of Capital Weed Control, the first RMAX franchise in Australia, says the unit effectively has no environmental footprint compared with ground machines and is so accurate it can be flown inside greenhouses.

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