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LiDAR Airborne Survey: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Flight
 

Daniel Adi Nugroho dot Net

...because a man can’t just sit around

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LiDAR Airborne Survey: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Flight

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Yeah I know, I slightly modified Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece to fit the mood of this article. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Don’t worry, just read on.

So… I’ve been working on my new job as an airborne LiDAR survey technician for less than a year. After working for more than 6 years in various office positions in Intermap/ExsaMap, I decided to take a leap of faith to work in McElhanney Indonesia as a field technician, instead of an office worker. In Intermap/ExsaMap, I’ve worked in data processing and production, software development and engineering, and before I go, sales and marketing. I’ve tried trading stocks as a side-job, which failed miserably after less than 2 years. Now I am trying to work at the field, where most of my time is spent outside the cubicle, under the sun.

The reason why I’m interested in this new job is that it offers a vast mix of expertise to learn. It combines many different aspects of Geomatics, from remote sensing, photogrammetry, GPS survey, some familiarity of aviation protocols, understanding of many different aircraft types, and basic knowledge of meteorology, as well as project management. It also involves some muscle work of lifting heavy crates of equipments and installing the bulky LiDAR system into the aircraft.

At first, it was quite intimidating to fly aboard an aircraft with rusty body and riddled with problems on its piston engines. Most survey aircrafts available in Indonesia nowadays are more than 20 or 30 years old, and most of them equipped with twin piston engines. Their small fuselage doesn’t seem to be sturdy enough to withstand the weather and the vibration during take-off and landing, and their blackened piston engines looks quite unreliable. I never flew aboard any smaller aircraft than a 50-seater Bombardier CRJ-100 jet plane before this job. However, the fear of flying aboard these old aircrafts is not greater than my curiosity to this new, unfamiliar world of airborne survey.

Once airborne, my fear disappears completely. I’m always impressed to the variety of terrain and weather pattern revealed before my eyes. Immersed in the various sceneries whose beauty cannot be clearly described by words, oftentimes I find myself holding my camera on the window for quite a while until fatigue sets in.
I saw magnificent waterfalls adorned with stunning arch of rainbow in the middle of nowhere in Papuan jungle. I saw pristine lakes on top of mountains in Sulawesi highlands. I saw a sea of clouds overflowing from behind a mountain ridge in Mindanao. The grandeur of large valleys with lush green forest, surreal ridges of faulted layers of bedrock with hundreds of meters thick, the towering structure of a cumulonimbus clouds and the majestic peaks of volcanoes blanketed by white mist… they never ceased to impress me. Not only that, once I’m back on the ground and processing the LiDAR data, the detailed shape of the terrain presented in shaded-relief surface continues to captivate my mind.

This job brings me closer to the Earth.

I will not trade this with the adrenaline rush of buying and selling orders on the stocks market. And I will certainly not trade this with a whole day spent debugging a faulty software, nor a morning spent sitting in my office room making cold calls and cold emails.

I remember one particular flight after finishing a sortie on a Cessna 402, on our way back from a survey site near Soroako to Kendari Airport in Sulawesi Island. It was almost dark, the sun is ready to hide beyond the horizon. The golden rays of the sun at low angle casts colorful hues on the thin, wispy layers of clouds scattered all over the horizon, with mountain peaks towering here and there, with their shadows projected on thin carpet of mist filling the vast valleys below. The sun shines from our rearward, and the rays fell on the instrument panel, brightening all the analog meters in yellowish reflection. Those kinds of scenic and dream-like views from the cockpit do offer some comfort to my weary soul.


This chapter of life, which involves high-risk flight missions, is something that I would do for the next few years while finishing my mortgage payments and finding scholarships to pursue a higher education in Geosciences. Time will tell.


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Last Updated on Saturday, 03 September 2011 10:54
 

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