(L-R): Simon, Lian Pin, and Serge working on a Caipy drone that will be used to monitor
parks for poachers.
Brenden and Simon checking out a Caipy for flight.
promising, but the parachute adds some weight and reduces
aerodynamics, which could impede the distance an aircraft
can travel. These last two landing methods also necessitate
a formidable drone design able to withstand repeated rough
Headwinds: If the aircraft is fighting strong winds it won’t be
able to travel as far during a flight, reducing the data gathered.
In Tropical Conservation Science, Lian Pin and Serge noted the
tendency for the airplane to meander when winds are high,
reducing flight distance even more. They recommend only
operating a drone when winds are less than 10 km (roughly 6
mph) per hour.
Environmental effects: Drones can be flown in moist
environments including snow-covered ground, after
rains, and early in the morning when dew still covers
vegetation. Some can even take off and land on bodies
of water. Waterproofing the servos can help prevent
damage, but it won’t prevent all issues.
“The toughest drone I’ve had to build was to modify
the ParkZone ICON A5 for flying over coral reefs in
Belize,” noted Lian Pin. “I had no idea how corrosive
that environment was. The electronics were starting to
rust on the second day we were out on the reef!
“In the end, we gave up on the idea of creating a
drone that could take off and land on the ocean. It was
just not practical.”
Rough landings: For all pilots, mishaps happen and
unexpected landings occur. Whether this is because of
pilot error or unexpected environmental effects, spare parts
may be necessary. Packing plenty of parts before leaving for the
field is critical, but the team has found that it can’t anticipate
all the components that might be needed to make repairs.
Obtaining spare parts while visiting new countries is tough.
The pilots have to find stores that sell the specific damaged
In one instance, Lian Pin was in India helping the Wildlife
Institute of India start using drones for research. He urgently
needed a replacement battery and posted
his problem on ConservationDrones.org’s
Facebook page asking more than 1,000
subscribers from around the world if they
knew somewhere in Delhi where he could
purchase the item. He managed to get what
he needed within 24 hours!
A Tool for Conservation Professionals
Conservation is a field particularly lacking
in financial support. Implementing drones to
gather data could have a substantial impact on
the allocation of monetary resources, enabling
more data to be collected at a reduced cost.
With the introduction of drones, it is
possible to cover a larger area. Transportation
costs will decrease as well because a drone can
scout an area before sending humans into the
One issue faced by conservation researchers
is ensuring minimal impact on the environment while in the
field. Sending drones to scout an area can focus human interest
on locations where, for example, orangutan activity is present,
completely eliminating the impact of humans.
Using drones can also have a direct impact on the survival of
researchers. Sometimes field work can involve using airplanes
or helicopters that fly relatively close to the ground to find
populations of animals. This can be very dangerous and
accidents can happen. Using a drone to gather information
eliminates the risk to pilots and the researchers onboard.
Wildlife rangers in areas such as Nepal, who patrol vast
expanses of land, also risk potentially life-threatening
encounters with poachers. Not only will drones enable them
to patrol land to find out where exactly poachers are, the
presence of drones helps scare poachers off, and photos from
the drones can be used to later identify the poachers.
Drones in the Field
Since the idea of using drones for conservation has begun
to catch on, Lian Pin and Serge have helped modify and
34 Model Aviation APRIL 2015 www.ModelAviation.com