By TRACEY ROXBURGH
A Queenstown aviator’s invention is tantalisingly close to becoming certified by Civil Aviation Authority, to become an official data recorder.
Over The Top helicopter boss Louisa ‘Choppy’ Patterson came up with the idea for ‘Eye In The Sky’ after the tragic death of her son, James Patterson-Gardner, 18, and experienced OTT pilot Stephen Combes, 42, in a Robinson R44 crash in February, 2015.
However, no one knows why the helicopter broke up in flight and, like many others, a Transport Accident Investigation Commission report concluded if the chopper was fitted with an audio-visual device, it would have been able to provide answers.
“I suppose that’s the reason we [started] designing this,” Patterson says.
“But since then, and since developing it, we’ve managed to find a whole lot of other attributes for it.”
Eye In The Sky’s been developed by Patterson, two of her senior pilots, James Forward and Brad Collier, and chopper guru Tom McCready.
Its uses include quickly diagnosing intermittent faults, pilot training and, on occasion, exoneration.
The tiny lightweight device is fitted inside the cockpit and records 160-degree, high-def, wide-angle video and audio; GPS data, with limitations; and information on speed, altitude and position; pitch, roll and yaw, as well as the nuances of what’s happening in the cockpit.
Patterson says the device – which comes in bright orange, to satisfy Civil Aviation Authority requirements, and black – is now inside the CAA building and the units have tested successfully.
“Our people that are helping us with the paperwork have said our approval is pending, the production units … have tested successfully – they have to go through all these CAA tests, a burn test, an impact test and all of those things.
“It’s available on the market, we’ve got 65 of them sitting here ready to go.
“We’ve fitted them to aircraft now around the world – we’ve had helicopters in Canada who’ve been a launch customer, they’ve taken 20-plus units, we have them in Chinooks in America, which is a big firefighting helicopter, and we have them in a helicopter in Papua New Guinea and Australia, firefighting helicopters there.”
And, Fire Emergency New Zealand and Department of Conservation have mandated its use in the inter-agency standard for use of aircraft.
Anyone wanting to carry out work for either agency has to ensure their helicopter or aircraft is fitted with the device – that could be almost 90 operators.
“We’re pretty excited that we’re here, ready, willing and able to fit them,” Patterson says.
She’s now turning her attention to a “version two model” with a unit in the tail, like a twin, so in the event of an intense “post-crash fire we would have a separate card that would be more robust”.
OTT also has an artificial intelligence specialist coming in to help create a system to quickly and accurately analyse data from each unit, which would then feed in to daily safety reports.
“Therefore, you have a very robust monitoring system.”
Eye In The Sky, being made in Dunedin, has also got the coveted ‘New Zealand Made’ sticker.
Proceeds from the sale of the device – retailing for US$5500 – will go to the James PG Foundation, established in Patterson’s son’s memory, to help people aged between 17 and 25 reach their full potential.
Trustees are James’ cousins and friends.