Flying in the backblocks of Canada has its challenges. She’s a big country, Canada, with big weather to match. Alfred D'Mello, OGL Engineering’s Ops Manager, says they often deal with 20 °C (68 °F) fluctuations throughout the day.
Alberta, known for its changeable weather, is hard to forecast for. Strong winds have little to slow them over the prairies, and a foehn-like wind, known as The Chinook, can bring turbulent heat with little warning. Light aircraft have previously crashed in the area due to a sudden breakdown of VFR conditions. With OGL’s HQ based there, the conditions are something Alfred is not unfamiliar with, nor unprepared for.
A geomatics engineer by training, Alfred joined OGL in 2012 soon after leaving university. He now oversees the OGL team as their fleet of three light aircraft are dispatched around the continent- a Cessna 310, a Cessna 210 and a Beechcraft Musketeer, all equipped with sophisticated laser scanning and photogrammetry equipment.
OGL offer a range of geomatics solutions, with a typical job requiring teams to fly over remote power lines to assess nearby vegetation. LiDAR laser scanners detect and record the height of trees, with an algorithm back in the office then ‘toppling’ all the timber along the route to see where the lines company needs to do some pruning. “It’s a neat solution,” says Alfred, face lighting up, “It uses the same technology they used to scan trees at famous golf course for the Tiger Woods video games!”
OGL’s line of work can send aircraft and pilots far and wide over the Canadian wilderness - and into that big weather. That was the situation Alfred was picking up one day from his office. The team were running a ferry flight, moving engineers to a new location, when the live weather overlay on Alfred’s Spidertracks system showing a storm rolling in. OGL have Spider units in each aircraft, which constantly ping their locations to a satellite, allowing Alfred to monitor their flight from his desk. Their small planes aren’t equipped with radar, so it’s an ingenious bolt-on that lifts the suite of avionics that OGL can access. With transmissions at 15-second intervals, Alfred gets a high-resolution track that’s perfect for matching the sometimes intricate scanning paths they need to fly. By overlaying live weather feeds and flight maps, he’s able to form a rich view of each job.
Knowledge is power, after all - and in this case, Alfred’s decision was easy to make. He sent a Spidertxt to the team; cellular coverage is understandably patchy in the Canadian backblocks, so these sat-texts keep them in easy contact. The team were alerted to the incoming weather, and spent the night in the charming town of Flin Flon (fun fact: the little mining community is named after a Sci-Fi character!).
With the thunderstorm blowing over, and the next day dawning bright and clear with no incoming weather showing up on the maps, the team were able to take to the skies again.
Just another day in the Canadian airborne surveying industry!