Most of the manned flights are carried out in two Yellow Foxbat light aircraft, capable of short take off and landing, which is also very economical on fuel. It is highly manoeuvrable and the design affords maximum visibility, particularly useful when conducting searches or monitoring wildfires or other environmental incidents on the ground. Sky Watch NI, through its membership, also has access to other light aircraft and helicopters based in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, when required.
Technology is moving forward at such a fast pace and it is thanks to the Research and Development carried by Search Systems, that Sky Watch NI has access to increasingly capable and sophisticated drones, for use when called out to search for missing persons or to assist with hazardous environmental conditions that could pose a risk to life.
Drones, (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), both fixed wing and rotary, have become a very valuable asset in search situations, as they have evolved over recent years and can now be used in daylight or at night. Until recently, thermal imaging was the only way to search at night. However, it is now possible to illuminate the area being searched to daylight conditions using light-carrying drones, either carrying their own lights powered by on-board batteries, or tethered to a generator on the ground. This is a massive step forward for night time searching.
The drones available at present to Sky Watch NI include commercial of the shelf units, used for daylight searches and capable of good performance in more challenging weather conditions. Other larger drones at the disposal of Sky Watch NI and on loan from Search Systems, include one able to land on water and search approximately 2 metres below the surface, water clarity permitting and also payload-carrying drones. These are capable of delivering life jackets, defibrillators, mobiles phones, medication and throw lines, over land and water, depending on the scenario and the need of either the missing person/casualty or the responder searching for them.