Common perception is that drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (“UAVs”) are a new development. That is true in some respects, but the use of remotely piloted aircraft has been around for some time. In fact, for more than 20 years now, Japan has used remotely operated helicopters to spray rice fields.
This technique is being test in the United States now. Reported as “flying tractors,” agricultural drones are being tested in wine country by the University of California Davis using the Yamaha RMAX:
The school reports:
The helicopter is equipped with one eight-liter tank on either side of the fuselage, giving it the capacity to carry 16 liters, or slightly more than four gallons, of water or liquid spray. The aircraft has a recommended maximum spraying speed of approximately 15 mph, as it methodically moves up and down the vineyard rows.
So far, the data indicate that the helicopter is providing thorough coverage across the vineyard and that the air currents stirred up by the helicopter rotors are causing the spray to reach even the undersides of the grapevine leaf canopy. Furthermore, the researchers have been impressed by the stability of the helicopter, even in gusty winds.
Eventually, the research team plans to conduct application tests with commonly used agricultural pesticides and herbicides. They will explore how well the helicopter compares to a tractor-drawn spray rig in terms of operator safety, cost and efficiency. They also are expanding the test flights to some almond orchards in California’s Central Valley.
Interestingly, the lead engineering professor on the project noted: “As a citizen, I share those reservations and agree that we need to be very careful about how we use unmanned aircraft … But with the color, size and noise of a motorcycle, this helicopter that we’re testing is anything but stealthy and would be a great disappointment to anyone hoping to use it for espionage or other covert purposes.”