Apache Close Encounters

Mar 26, 2024 | Air Traffic Control, BVLOS, Construction Project, Discussion, Regulation

Stakeholder engagement and consultation work for our CAA-backed Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) ‘Sandbox’ trial project took us last week to Wattisham airfield, home of the Army Air Corps Apache attack helicopter force. We had a great meeting with the team there, discussing the challenges of sharing low-level airspace and got a very close-up view of one of the AH-64E Apaches. We’re used to seeing these aircraft operating at low level around the Norfolk and Suffolk countryside and have often paused or modified our drone operations when we’ve heared the distinctive thrum of their rotors. During our survey work on the East Anglia One offshore wind farm cable corridor, we regularly engaged with Wattisham to improve our awareness of any planned low-level Apache operations that might conflict with our survey flights between Bramford, Woodbridge and Bawdsey.

AAC Apache flying over our drone survey area

An Apache passing through our survey area at low level

On a recent cable corridor construction monitoring survey near Dereham, we paused our flight operations while an Apache flew through the survey area at very low level. We’d heard the Apache approaching and, in this case, were easily able to determine its route and to rule out any risk of confliction.

As joint users of low-level airspace, and with the Apache’s ability to hedge-hop and seemingly appear out of nowhere, reliable methods of identifying each other’s presence and position are incredibly important. HexCam is rolling out the use of PilotAware’s ‘FX’ Electronic Conspicuity (EC) devices across its surveying fleet so that other air users are able to see our location and operating height in real time. We’re also using PilotAware’s ‘ATOM‘ station network to pick up and track other low level traffic (including AAC Apache operations) that might enter our area of operation. As well as using data from the static ATOM stations scattered around the region, we’re now starting to deploy our mobile mast-mounted ATOM station close to our flight areas to ensure full coverage and detection.

 

The track of the Apache that flew through our survey area is easily viewed through the PilotAware virtual RADAR (example screenshot below) and other tools within the PilotAware environment allow us to replay the flight track and to assess the extent of detection across the ATOM network.

The blue line shows the flight track of the Apache through our survey area (blue dot)

Our consultation work is ongoing and we’ll be releasing more news on the BVLOS trial project in the coming weeks and months.