Tragic South African fires inspire search and rescue drone

By Patrick C. Miller | November 30, 2018

Some of the worst fires in South Africa’s history have resulted in the development of a vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) specifically for search and rescue missions.

Drone developer and manufacturer ALTI UAS of Knysna, South Africa, has created the ALTI Transition SAR Orange, a specialized version of its Transition drone. The aircraft features a vibration damping mount for a combustion engine that provides 12 hours of flight endurance and a range of about 540 miles.

Duran De Villiers, owner and director at ALTI UAS, said the company’s new drone was designed for search and rescue missions. It can capture detailed footage using thermal cameras that enable fire crews to see through smoke. Monitoring a fire from above helps firefighters to quikcly gather and relay important information.

“Another massive advantage is the ability to fly when it’s too dangerous for manned aircraft to fly,” De Villiers said. “There was a fatal accident with a local firefighting helicopter pilot that died during the recent fires here in Knysna. If we can assist in preventing further losses with our technology, then only are we doing our job.”

The bright orange version of the ALTI Transition can be equipped for disaster-specific payload integration to support firefighting, post-disaster management and damage assessment. The drone transitions from hover to fixed-wing flight mode, requiring no catapult or landing strip.

A modular frame enables the drone to be transported in a case and set up within 10 minutes. Search and rescue missions can be launched quickly from nearly any location. The ALTI Transition SAR Orange supports a wide range of payloads with a capacity of up to 3.3 pounds.

De Villiers said the company’s SAR drone drastically cuts down on expenses, keeping rescuers safe by doing dangerous work that helps speed up search and rescue efforts. “After all, every second counts in these types of situations,” he added.

The new ALTI Transition SAR Orange is enhanced to support emergency rescue operations by capturing detailed footage from above, allowing for supply drops, locating trapped victims and to survey, record and analyze terrain. It has been designed for every-day, all-day operation with a $3.50 per hour operation cost.