I Need Them Now! How Fast Can You Get Orthos?

A natural disaster hits, your client wants their project complete next week, the imagery funding only becomes available a week before you want to fly, or you want to review imagery right after acquisition. Can you get your aerial imagery acquired or viewed quickly? With the speed of aircraft and advances in digital aerial imagery; why, certainly!

Acquisition Deployment Abilities

Aircraft based imagery providers, like Aerial Services, have the flexibility to acquire data within tight timeframes, beyond that of other methods (like satellite). While there are limits on any technique, how quickly imagery can be acquired by aircraft is typically only a function of how fast the aircraft can get there and the atmospheric conditions upon arrival.


Aerial Services’ fleet in Cedar Falls, Iowa can reach two-thirds of the United States within 3-4 hours.

Aircraft flying at 250mph on average, can reach two-thirds of the United States from Cedar Falls, Iowa within a maximum 3-4 hours of takeoff. Because some aircraft may be anywhere in the United States at any given time flying other missions, time to site may be reduced even more. Barring conditions at the site(s) like poor weather or extensive cloud cover, flight crews could typically acquire your imagery in hours.

Image Processing & Turnaround

Thanks to the digital revolution in aerial orthoimagery, the turnaround time to see your imagery has went from weeks with film collection to hours with digital. In fact, flight crews can often review imagery in-flight or soon after landing.

Aerial Services is flying Leica’s newest pushbroom digital camera, ADS80-SH82. This technology is pushing the limits of how quick orthoimagery can be made available. The goal remains “1:1” flight acquisition to finished product process time, and while not yet possible (due to data transfer limitations), initial views of orthophotography can be provided in a comparable time.

“Quick orthos”, a service derivative, are orthophotos generated within hours of touchdown by camera operators. The images do not meet stringent accuracy specifications.  However, these are routinely used by production teams, and can be used by clients to get the quickest possible use of the imagery for emergency, intelligence, or other needs.

Traditional orthoimagery can also be output at speeds impossible in the past because of advances in parallel processing and the simplification of the ortho production process. Because the imagery begins life as a digital file, film processing and scanning time is eliminated. High-powered computers and software working in parallel, crunch the imagery, terrain, and positional information to turn out the orthophotos needed. Photogrammetrists oversee and refine the entire process to ensure quality results.

Depending on the time of year, scope of coverage, and contractor workflow, projects’ orthos can still take weeks to months produce, but this is much improved over past production times. However, if in need of quicker turnaround, speak with your contractor to see if special arrangements can be made. Or perhaps “quick orthos” could suffice in emergencies or other time-critical applications until the traditional, fully-controlled, tonal-balanced orthos can be delivered.

Short Lead Time = Higher Costs? Not Necessarily

Costs related to a quick turnaround may in fact be greater than other types of planned acquisition. With that said, there are a few items to consider before assuming such an acquisition will not be affordable.

First, add-ons like “quick orthos” are service derivatives which will likely be produced for the provider’s internal consumption regardless. While there may be a fair premium charged for such output, the technology enables production of this service for a reasonable fee.

Second, the staged location of an aircraft already working on projects could work to your advantage. For instance, if an Aerial Services aircraft and sensor were already flying a project in Arizona, and you wished to acquire tornado damage in northern Texas, ferry cost to your site may actually be less than if the plane was sitting in Iowa. It is worth a call to see if an aircraft is near your desired location.

Third, while pulling planes off an existing contract would be costly on short notice, it is possible your location is more flyable (better weather, etc.) than another contracted project locations. If so, then the provider has a strong incentive to dispatch an aircraft from the contracted project location to the site needing orthos now. Aerial providers would much rather be flying their cameras than having them sit idle, even if it is a last minute project.

Finally, many service providers offer “emergency services” using contract vehicles constructed prior to an event. These typically include guarantees that an aircraft and crew will be dispatched and on-site within a matter of hours. These pre-arranged service agreements are an excellent way to ensure your imagery needs are met in an emergency.

Need Quick Ortho Turn-Around? Don’t Rule It Out

Next time you think, “I’d really like to have some aerial imagery right now,” because of an act of God, a client is in a hurry, funds unexpectedly and temporarily become available, or some other unforeseen circumstance, give your aerial provider a call. You may be surprised how quickly and affordably they can meet your needs. Today’s sensors, computer technology, and aerial imaging profession provide what’s needed to capture the event or project you need in a hurry.

Aerial Services currently flies two Leica ADS80-SH2 sensors. These devices are especially useful for timely acquisition and post-processing. Further, the company has developed web applications and services like SpatialCloud.com that are capable of delivering the completed imagery efficiently after production. Please consider calling Aerial Services if you foresee the need for quick turnaround of aerial imagery for your next project or when faced with a time sensitive event. Visit AerialServicesInc.com or call 319-277-0436.

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