Case study

BVLOS Drone Aerial Survey - 250km2

Paving the way - Mapping future mine sites using BVLOS Drone Technology

Revolutionising Drone Surveys and Aerial Assessment: National Drones and Silvertone’s Aerial Expertise

National Drones recently partnered with Silvertone and QEM to undertake an extensive aerial survey spanning an impressive 250 square kilometers. This ambitious project was designed to create a detailed orthomosaic and digital elevation model, providing QEM with an intricate understanding of their property. The mission’s objectives were clear: to accurately map out boundary and fence lines, assess flood planning strategies, and lay the groundwork for future development and conservation efforts.

Efficiency in the Field: The National Drones Approach

Over the course of just a few days, National Drones and Silvertone deployed Silvertones cutting-edge Flamingo MKIII technology to canvass the vast expanse of QEM’s property. This rapid deployment would have been unfeasible with traditional survey methods, yet our skilled operators and state-of-the-art drones made it possible. The data captured during these flights was processed to yield an orthomosaic and digital elevation model.

Strategic Insights: Beyond Boundaries and Elevation

The resultant orthomosaic provided QEM with a high-resolution map, enabling precise boundary delineations and robust future. Meanwhile, the digital elevation model offered valuable topographic information essential for comprehensive flood planning and environmental management. These tools combined to form a foundational dataset for QEM, empowering them with insights to drive informed decision-making for their property’s future.

Challenges of BVLOS and Regulatory Collaboration: National Drones and Silvertone’s Aerial Expertise

Conducting an extensive 250km² aerial survey presents unique challenges, particularly when the operation involves Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flights. BVLOS surveys push the boundaries of standard drone operations, enabling the coverage of vast areas beyond the operator’s immediate view. This advanced application of drone technology offers unparalleled benefits but also comes with its own set of complexities, primarily concerning safety and regulatory compliance. In this particular case – the Drone was operating at distances of up to 40km from the base station.

Navigating BVLOS Complexities

The primary challenge of BVLOS surveys lies in ensuring the safety of both the drone and the airspace it traverses. Traditional drone flights operate within the pilot’s line of sight, allowing for direct visual management of the aircraft. BVLOS operations, however, rely heavily on advanced systems for navigation and collision avoidance, demanding rigorous checks and a high level of precision in planning and execution.

Regulatory work with CASA

Understanding the intricacies of BVLOS regulations, National Drones worked diligently with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to secure approval for the QEM project. This close collaboration was pivotal in demonstrating our commitment to safety and compliance with Australia’s aviation regulations.

Our team engaged in thorough planning and risk assessment, adhering to CASA’s stringent guidelines for BVLOS flights. We provided detailed flight plans, safety protocols, and contingency measures, ensuring that every aspect of the survey adhered to the highest standards of operational safety.

Achieving Regulatory Approvals

The approval granted by CASA for this project was not just a procedural success; it was a testament to the trust and confidence placed in National Drones’ operational capabilities. It also marked a significant milestone, setting a precedent for future BVLOS operations and advancing the potential for drone technology in industrial applications.



The task of surveying a sprawling 250km² area is daunting, to say the least. The sheer scale of the land demands a comprehensive approach to capture every terrain in detail. Traditional ground-based survey methods are often impractical for such vast areas due to the significant time, labour, and financial resources required.

Challenges include navigating varied and potentially rugged terrain, ensuring consistent data quality across extensive distances, and coordinating the logistics of survey teams and equipment. Furthermore, large-scale land surveys must contend with environmental factors such as weather changes, which can disrupt the consistency and scheduling of data collection.

National Drones, through its expertise in aerial surveying, circumvents these issues by deploying drones capable of covering large areas with precision and speed, transforming what would be a logistical marathon into a tactical sprint. Our approach minimizes human exposure to challenging landscapes and expedites the data collection process, providing comprehensive, high-resolution imagery and topographical data that are vital for accurate analysis and decision-making.


The formidable challenge of conducting a land survey over a 250km² area was met with an innovative aerial solution. By leveraging state-of-the-art drone technology equipped with advanced imaging and sensing capabilities, we were able to efficiently survey the vast terrain with in a relatively short period of time. The Flamingo MKIII Aircraft that was deployed designed to cover extensive areas quickly, negating the need for numerous ground personnel and reducing the time taken from weeks to mere days.

Our comprehensive solution involved meticulous pre-flight planning to ensure complete coverage without redundant overlaps. The drones captured high-definition images and generated accurate digital elevation models, which were then seamlessly stitched together to create a cohesive orthomosaic of the entire area with a pixel resolution of 6 centimetres. This method not only accelerated the survey process but also produced data of extremely high quality, with detailed insights into the topography and environmental features of the property.

In addition, our use of drones minimized the environmental impact typically associated with large-scale land surveys. By reducing the need for ground vehicles and equipment, we were able to lessen soil disruption and preserve the natural state of the ecosystem.

This data also provided an accurate representation of the property before any construction or mining activities took place – giving a record at a point in time.


To ensure the highest quality of data over the expansive QEM tenement, National Drones employed a sophisticated methodology. This process involved capturing a series of overlapping photographs from our drones, which were then processed together to create a comprehensive and precise representation of the land. Photogrammetry relies on overlapping imagery to build depth and dimension into the models it constructs. By calculating the optimal overlap to give quality data as well as a reasonable time-frame for capture between images, we know that every inch of the survey area was documented with enough redundancy to ensure accuracy and to correct any potential discrepancies.

To anchor the aerial data to real-world coordinates and enhance the precision of our photogrammetric analysis, we established a network of ground control points (GCPs) across the survey site. These GCPs serve as reference markers, allowing us to calibrate and validate our aerial data against known positions on the ground. The integration of these points into our data processing ensures that the orthomosaics and digital elevation models produced are not only detailed but also geospatially accurate. The collection of these GCP’s is an effort in itself and took the better part of four days over an area this size.

Given the scale of the project and the necessity of ensuring communications with the aircraft, maintaining robust communication with our drones was paramount. To navigate this challenge, we conducted a thorough viewshed analysis prior to deployment. This analysis enabled us to map out areas where radio communication could be compromised due to terrain obstructions, ensuring that at no point would our drones be operating without a reliable communication link.




The aerial survey conducted for QEM culminated in a suite of high-definition deliverables that surpassed the project’s requirements. Achieving an impressive 6cm resolution, the 2D orthomosaics provided an exceptionally detailed bird’s-eye view of the property, offering clarity that facilitated precise boundary delineation and informed decision-making. In addition to the 2D products, our operation also generated comprehensive 3D outputs, including a digital elevation model (DEM) that offers valuable topographic information with volumetric accuracy and a textured 3D mesh that brings the landscape to life for stakeholders requiring more immersive interaction with the surveyed area.

These datasets, rich in detail and scope, were made accessible through our cloud-based platform, SmartData. This advanced delivery method not only ensured that the information was easily available to QEM’s team for immediate analysis but also provided a secure, collaborative environment for various departments to interact with the data. By leveraging SmartData, QEM could integrate the new aerial insights directly into their existing workflows, enhancing their operational efficiency and planning capabilities. The high-resolution imagery and 3D models delivered through this project have set a new standard for land surveying, enabling a level of precision and accessibility that propels QEM’s project planning into the future.

The results delivered through SmartData not only presented QEM with a visual repository but also equipped them with enhanced analytical capabilities. The 6cm resolution imagery provided the basis for detailed analyses, from environmental assessments to infrastructure planning. With the high-fidelity 2D and 3D products, QEM’s team could conduct in-depth analyses with confidence in the data’s accuracy.


The benefits of large-scale Drone Survey for QEM

Increased visibility

An up-to-date condition assessment and record of the mining tenement prior to any construction works taking place


Cost efficiencies utilising Drone, allows for more regular assessments to take place.

Asset lifecycle monitoring

Higher quality of data compared to traditional methods of mapping (GSD of 7cm per pixel)

No downtime

Environment - A Drone will use less than 1% of the fuel that a full size aircraft would use on this same project

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