Helikite is a proprietary name of a kite-balloon that is manufactured by Allsopp Helikites, LTD and includes a keel and small wings which provide increased stability over simple helium balloons in wind. BMFL has a 16 cubic meter Desert Star Helikite. Maximum payload varies with wind conditions, but at 15 mph, 12 kg is the maximum. Because only about 6 kg can be lifted when there is no wind, a condition that can occur during deployments, a target payload of 8-10 kg is safest. The balloon is filled with helium prior to use and deployed using a Dyneema flying line controlled from a large drum electric winch. A carbon-fiber damped pendulum mount provides an attachment point for cameras and other instruments.
The Helikite provides a unique opportunity to capture images from altitudes far lower than from fixed wing aircraft and also enables measurements over one area over extended periods of time (hours to days). Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations limit flights to below 500 ft (150 m), but with the lenses on the BMFL cameras, areas of thousands of square meters can be imaged at altitudes far less than that. Helikite deployments require arrangements for helium, at least two experienced balloon handlers, suitable weather conditions, and an obstruction-free launch point (no trees) where the base can be securely anchored (e.g. solid ground, truck bed, large boat). Contact BMFL staff about regularly scheduled flights and prospects for special deployments.
Instruments can be used from a boat. Although, as of winter 2015, we have not attempted to deploy the Helikite (with its base and winch) from a boat, this should be possible. This capability would enable mapping of large and remote areas of salt marshes, flats, oyster reefs, beaches, and creeks.
A large lightweight aluminum boom is available to deploy instruments from about 1-5 meters above the ground. The angle of the main shaft can be adjusted to obtain the desired elevation of an instrument attached to the end of the boom. The stable device is mounted on a chassis with large tires which makes it possible to deploy over a marsh, mudflat or beach.
All of the cameras can be used at ground level. They can be hand-held or mounted on a tripod.
Use of the instruments from a remotely controlled (untethered) drone may be possible in the future. Risk of damage to expensive instruments increases with devices such as small propeller planes and quadcopters, especially when flying over wet environments. The weight of cameras and batteries may exceed payload capacities of readily available and inexpensive drones.
Fixed wing (airplane)
Some data posted in the imagery pages originated from airplane flights conducted with other instruments and locations before the BMFL instruments described elsewhere on this page were available. See the metadata with those images for information.