Italian-based Helica is a remote sensing company specialising in airborne laser terrain mapping, hyperspectral surveys and aerial photography.

It operates two AS350s and both helicopters capture data which is then processed by Helica and used by customers around the world for a range of applications including telecoms, transportation, energy, national security and water and land management.

Helica has two L-3 Wescam MX-15HDi EO/IR turrets used on the same AS350s to provide High Definition (HD) airborne imagery to Civil Defence Centres during emergencies and disaster relief missions. The system was critical when the earthquake in L’Aquila struck in the Abruzzo region of Italy.

Supporting the search and rescue effort a team from Helica arrived on the scene with the AS350 fully role-equipped with the MX-15HDi and VMB-S. The downlink receive site was quickly set-up, and for every day of the relief mission the system provided real-time HD imagery for the department of civil protection who were co-ordinating the multi-agency disaster relief effort. In the wake of the rescue operations in L’Aquila the control centre was visited by the Italian Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi where he praised the performance of the system.

Technically advanced

The MX-15HDi has 1080p True HD cameras with zoom and spotter lenses. The HD image enables faster search times and improved situational awareness on the ground. The IR camera has the latest large format IR sensor delivering high resolution IR images. For operating in low light conditions, the MX-15HDi also has a low light camera that has a sensitivity better than 0.025Lux.

The MX-15HDi connects to a seat-mounted Video Mission Box (VMB-S) that can be rapidly installed and removed from the AS350, enabling the helicopter to be configured for either laser mapping or airborne video missions. The VMB-S comprises a HD display, HD downlink (with a range >150km), recorder and moving map system in a single box. The box is installed onto the modified rear bench seat [1], with cabling looms that connect the VMB-S to the MX-15HDi, the downlink antenna and the +28V DC aircraft supply. The whole system is EASA certified and can be installed in less than 1 hour.

Transmitting images from ground receive sites

The next challenge was to be able to deliver these live images from the helicopter to a central command and control centre at Palmanova and/or to individual mobile sites at the scene to aid with critical decision making and situation assessment.

Helica contracted HeliMedia to deliver a system that would deliver uninterrupted video and data over the entire Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Northern Italy, which includes the Italian Alps, using as few receive sites as possible.

HeliMedia delivered a complete solution which included one fixed, one mobile and one transportable Ground Receive System (GRS).

Fixed GRS

The primary receive site, located on the roof of the command and control centre in Palmanova, uses a mast-mounted, intelligent directional multi-antenna pod. Inside the pod are a combination of medium gain sector antennas and a high-gain directional antenna giving 360° coverage of up to 250kms. The video from the receiver is displayed on large plasma screens in the command and control centre, where a state of the art PC based monitoring and control system, capable of supporting multiple, networked GRS systems, is run by a single operator.

The operator can not only control all the equipment at all the receive sites, such as changing downlink frequency channels, but also monitor the performance of individual pieces of equipment, for example checking alarms, temperature or current draw. This capability is crucial as it saves valuable time and resources as problems can be rapidly diagnosed at base, before sending out engineers to remote receive sites across the Alps.

Mobile GRS

The mobile GRS is enclosed in a Pelicase comprising two antennas. It is used for rapid deployment for command teams on the ground and was successfully deployed during the L’Aquilla earthquake response. Live HD video is displayed on an integral LCD and can be shown on larger screens via HD-SDI outputs.

Transportable GRS

The transportable GRS includes the mobile GRS together with 4x 90° sector antennas. This extends the range of the mobile GRS and can be deployed on a vehicle mounted pump-up mast to give 360° coverage on the move.

With a complete end-to-end system now installed, Helica provides an aerial video service for the Italian Department of Civil Protection, which assists emergency services in a range of disaster relief missions across the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Italy.