HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The infrared video is remarkably steady. It's all shades of grey except for the bright glowing dot that moves. That dot is actually a young man with a medical condition who was lost in Giles County, Tennessee. The Avion Solutions Unmanned Aircraft Unit was called in to help.
Unmanned aircraft are of course referred to by most people as "drones". Flying them is an activity, a capability, that seemingly expands on a daily basis. "And it doesn't matter if its search and rescue or infrastructure inspection, or whatever it is. Law enforcement, fire fighting, it's an additional tool and if you use if effectively it's a game changer," said Micheal Winchester, the Maintenance Chief for Avion Unmanned Solutions.
Michael and Taylor Abington are veterans of the Unmanned Unit at Avion. They're also veterans of another sort. They served in the Army with the 1st of the 230th Air Cavalry Squadron. In the Army, they used helicopters to look for bad guys or for search and rescue. "So we understand search patterns and grids, and how to coordinate the ground team to work with the airborne assets and pass that information along to one another," said Taylor.
That Army knowledge came in handy as the crew from Avion called into to search for a lost teen with medical issues. The search took hours and covered miles. "And you're working and you're looking on the maps and saying what you've done and what area you've covered, and just stay focused on it," said Michael.
Focused even in the ark, using the aircraft's infrared camera, and then...."When Taylor is like, fly left, that's when your heartbeat goes back up," said Michael. After hours of searching the team from Avion caught sight of the missing young man. They watched him come out of the woods. They flew above him as he walked down the road. The infrared camera sensitive enough to notice the backpack which told them they were following the right guy. "It was a pretty fantastic feeling, knowing that we worked together with those multiple agencies and we were the team that found the young man," said Taylor Abingdon.
The Avion guys called in the ground forces. From above they saw the meeting and they saw the arm go round the young man's shoulders. The entire incident reaffirmed something about the technology. "It's a game changer," said Michael.
A game changer that can send the Avion guys from an early February search for a lost teenager to being the simulated enemy force in training operations for Army unmanned operators. It is definitely a capability that's going in multiple directions.