4 Ideal Drones for Forestry
Drones (or unmanned aerial vehicles – UAVs) are not yet commonplace for forestry companies around the globe.
But as of this writing (November 3th/2018) usage is growing. Pilot training and drone procurement is becoming a bigger priority for many leading forestry companies. According to ForestTech at the end of Nov 2017:
At the just completed ForestTECH 2017 series, we heard from major forestry companies in both New Zealand and Australia that are investing heavily in drones, training in-company pilots and using the technology operationally across their estates.
So which UAV models are the best for your company? Which drones are being used by other forestry companies?
Great questions. So I’ve done some research in an effort to help you make the best choices for your team.
I’ve reached out to drone manufacturers, operators, and forestry companies. I’ve also gathered expert information for you to consider (see Expert Roundup).
Forestry Drone Applications:
1.) measuring forest canopy height
2.) measuring forest canopy attributes
3.) crown/gap mapping
3.) mapping forest disturbances
5.) precision forestry
6.) forest management
7.) sustainable planning
8.) forest disease/pest monitoring
9.) forest fire tracking/prevention
10.) forest stand mapping
11.) volume estimation
12.) wind blow assessment
13.) harvest planning
14.) human and animal activity
4 Ideal Drones for Forestry:
After reading extensively on the subject, and asking a lot of questions, I’ve narrowed the list down to 4 ideal drone models best suited for most forestry applications; and because price is always a consideration, I’ve included a lower cost, and higher cost drone for both types (rotary and fixed-wing – see Drone Roundup).
1.) lowest price fixed-wing drone
2.) highest price fixed-wing drone
3.) lowest price rotary drone
4.) highest price rotary drone
2 Drone Types is Ideal
Fixed wing for some applications and rotary for others. Detailed more below.
5 Primary Limitations
1.) flight time 2.) size/payload 3.) range 4.) landing / takeoff 5.) durability
Types by Application
Fixed Wing Applications
Best for larger forests, tropical forests, large land bases. For mapping and imaging, retrieval of forest structural parameters such as height, basal area, tree density (fixed wing drones have much longer flight times and radius coverage).
Rotary Drone Applications
Multicopters / Quadracopters / Octocopters
Best for smaller forests due to shorter range and endurance.
Excelling with canopy gaps, and allows vertical ascent & descent when there isn’t sufficient room for landing a fixed wing drone.
Experts on Drones in Forestry
“15 Uses of Drones in Forestry/Precision forestry and forestry management”
“Identification and mapping of wind damaged forest to plan for value recovery”
My 4 Top Picks
High-End Rotary Drone
8URTF Rigs / X8 Octocopter
FAA Certified Aircraft
Designed and manufactured in the USA. Attentive customer service from the Xfold CS team. High degree of flexibility for pin-point applications. Excellent payload distribution and can handle inclement weather conditions.
Expensive. Best used by contract drone operators due to the learning curve for forestry employees with no experience. Not suitable for long-range forestry applications due to shorter range and maximum 30 minute flight time (approximately).
- designed & manufactured in USA
- operators can be dual or single
- 12 months xFold™ Warranty
- excellent payload distribution
- payload maximum 16 lbs/7.5 kg
- mapping, surveying, photo/video
- quad, hexa, x8 or x12 flexibility
- excellent transport fold down
- center of gravity 100% balanced
- toray 3K-weave carbon fiber frame
- folded dimensions / 18.5” x 14.5” x 10”
- flight time maximum / 27 minutes
- battery / 8000-16000 mAh (4×6)
- Taranis X9D Plus for radio
- video d-link / 600 mW VTX 5.8 GHz
- 7” liquid crystal display
- 330KV motors and 40 amp ESC
- see 4 configurations on xFold site
xFold Drone for Forestry:
Best suited for smaller community forests as their coverage area capacity is less than their fixed-wing counterparts. Shorter distances and shorter flight times mean this drone is ideal for pinpoint missions.
Watch this video to see an xFold drone in action (using xFold Dragon Configuration).
This drone is ideal when the operator needs to have vertical access in canopy gaps. Another application where this drone excels is when when carrying out specific damage assessment and disease assessment data collection. Basically, it’s the drone forestry companies can pull out of their tool kit when they want to collect video data on a smaller area of concern.
The other key advantage of this rotary drone is it’s ability to land vertically. Fixed wing drones require a landing strip.
Operator conversation: I spoke with an operator who gets contracts to monitor cannabis fields in Canada and the USA. Due to the smaller areas, and low level requirements, it’s perfect for this application. He also mentioned he’s uses this drone when he works for tree planting companies in British Columbia.
Descriptions, Claims, Reviews:
I want to describe this xFold rotary drone in an objective way so I’ve removed all marketing descriptions for you.
This xFold rotary drone has a light-weight carbon fiber frame. It excels when it comes to traveling from site to site, due to it’s folding design and modular rotor setup/configurations.
The engineers at xFold designed this drone to maintain a strict central of gravity. They claim to have achieved a 100% balanced payload by spreading weight over a larger surface area than other competing rotary drones.
The manufacturer claims this specific drone model is ideal for bad weather conditions, and in my operator outreach this was confirmed by one pilot. The same operator I spoke with above said he’s flown countless hours in “less than favorable” weather conditions, and this model performed without issue.
The key advantage with this drone, according to the manufacturer (and the pilot we consulted) is it’s flexibility; being able to setup different configurations enables the the contract operator (or the forestry company employees) to use it for many different small scale, pin-point missions.
For example you can configure this drone as a Hexa, Quad, x8 or x12 – in the video below they’re using an x12 configuration.
Fixed Wing Drone
Highest quality drone in consumer non-military market. Long range and long endurance. Extensive data collection capabilities. Pneumatic launcher and parachute so no runway required. Manufacturer provided training options with locations in Europe and the United States. Sold in over 50 countries (as of this writing). 20 minute setup (two people).
Expensive; with a price range of $17000 – $25000 US dollars. Requires a two person team to assemble and disassemble. Not as compact as smaller drones and will require a van to move from site to site. May require some regulatory issues dealt with when moving it across borders, even though it’s FAA approved and not ITAR restricted.
- over 100 km (60 miles) range
- over 20 hours flight time
- flight ready in 20 minutes (2 operators)
- commercial grade parts & construction
- extensive operator training provided
- extremely low acoustic signature
- long range surveillance capabilities
- parachute recovery/pinpoint landing
- advanced day and night payload
- wingspan 3.3 meters / 10.8 feet
- MTOW 22.5 kilograms / 49.6 pounds
- cruise speed 19-22 m/s / 37-43 knots
- max level speed 32 m/s / 62.2 knots
- max ceiling 4500 meters / 15000 feet
- pneumatic catapult takeoff
- max takeoff alt 3000 m / 10000 ft AMSL
- max operational temp > -25°C < +50°C
- heated pitot static tube for ice
Penguin C for Forestry:
The Penguin C is a commercial level, long range, high endurance drone designed and initially manufactured in Latvia by a company called UAV Factory.
They have a United States location in Bend, Oregon and their drones have been sold in over 50 countries at the time of this writing.
Out of all the drones I’ve researched, the Penguin C shines as the clear and obvious best choice for forestry operations. With it’s long-range capabilities, large forest management is greatly enhanced (flight endurance up to 55+ hours/operation radius over 100 km/60 miles, allowing for extensive data retrieval).
The Penguin C drone isn’t ITAR restricted, so it can be shipped around the globe to different forest locations without few border issues (some exceptions, but none that would effect most forestry companies). It’s also FAA approved due to it being under 55 pounds, which is required for the small UAV classification.
This drone excels in visual mapping and video imaging, due to it’s Epsilon 175 gyro-stabilized sensor turret; at it’s highest configuration boasting a 2.59 kilogram gyro, with a 4 sensor, mid-wave infrared (MWIR) gimbal for long range continuous zooming. The data is collected and supported by an encrypted IP-based data-link with a control radius within 100 kilometers and still maintain high-def streaming.
Penguin C Dimensions
The Penguin is used for many different applications (including reconnaissance and surveillance applications) but it’s ideal for forestry applications due to it’s video imaging, zooming, and range. It has infrared technology so operators can not only monitor forests for canopy and species attributes, they can see wildlife movements (and human movements).
So forest management professionals can not only do precise imaging for mapping and surveying; they can guard their investment against theft, vandalism, forest fire threats, and forest disturbances.
Unlike the Penguin C’s past predecessor (the Penguin B) it’s more versatile due to it’s ability to use several different configurations.
DJI Mavic 2
Lower Cost Rotary
Lower cost with high-end video and imaging. Short learning curve for low cost training. Only one operator required. Tight space takeoff and landing. Highly effective collision avoidance sensors.
Shorter range than their fixed wing counterparts. Lower altitude flying. Shorter battery life so only useful for short data collection missions.
- takeoff weight under 31 ounces
- 45 mph (72 km/h) in sports mode
- 11 miles (18 km) flight range
- GPS and GLONASS sat connect
- flight max wind 24 mph (38 kmh)
- intelligent flight modes
- low training / learning curve
- video max 5 miles (8 km)
- DJI goggles or remote control
- cam res 720p – 1080p 30 fps
- vid latency to devices 120-130 ms
- 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz radio freqs.
- 6 direction zoom sensing ability
- camera 10 bit dlog-m color
- 20 million pixels sensor 1″ CMOS
- lens FOV 77° / aperture f/2.8-11
- still image size 5472 × 3648
- see all specs @ DJI website
Mavic 2 for Forestry:
Professional operations might be turned off with all the videos by hobbyists showing off the Mavic 2 by DJI. But you can see for yourself in the videos below that this rotary drone would work well for collecting data in various applications.
Like the xFold rotary drone, the Mavic 2 would only be ideal for pinpoint forestry applications. However, this DJI drone is far less expensive than the xFold, costing between $1600 and $2200 USD (approx.) The precise description from DJI is “DJI Mavic 2 Pro Drone Quadcopter with Hasselblad Camera HDR Video UAV Adjustable Aperture 20MP 1″ CMOS Sensor (US Version)”.
But for forest management (mapping, surveillance, and surveying) the Mavic 2 is an excellent solution for operations who would like to wade slowly into the waters and experiment using drone technology to manage smaller forests and/or pinpoint areas of interest in larger forests.
The Mavic 2 can fly 11 miles which allows for a wide enough radius to effectively collect enough video and/or still imagery to capture significant data. For smaller forest operators and tree planting operations, it may turn out to be highly effective. I could not find enough data on companies using this particular drone, but I’m reaching out to forest management companies in effort to find out more. More will be revealed, in my industry outreach.
The two main takeaways from my research on the Mavic 2 are; 1) price is much less 2) training and learning curve is much smaller 3) only requires a single operator 4) extremely compact so you can move it from site to site in a small carry bag (or custom protective case).
There is no way this rotary drone can hold a candle to a fixed wing UAV for flight time and range. Below we will cover our less expensive pick for a fixed wing drone.
One of the exciting things about the Mavic 2 is it’s collision avoidance technology (video showing this drone in a very tight quarters anti-collision test). This is possible because the Mavic 2 has 10 sensors.
When using a Mavic 2 (Pro or Zoom models) for forest mapping and, your altitude will usually be much higher and collision less of a problem, but it’s good to know this technology is there. This video in Hawaii shows a Mavic drone model used at altitudes forestry management teams would usually be flying at.
Here is another video of this drone in action
Starting @ $6200
Reasonably priced for forestry applications – I chose all the options and accessories (below) that would be required for forest mapping and surveying and it came to just over $11000. Long range and up to 5 hours flight time. Autonomous takeoff and landing.
Can cost over $30,000 (before tax and shipping) with Applied Aeronautics pilot training, infrared, and all the bells and whistles. At this price you could be considering the Penguin C package (above).
- up to 5 hour flight time
- 10kg max take off weight
- autonomous takeoff/landing
- onboard laser altimeter
- top speeds of 90 mph
- 4.4 kg of additional payload
- NDVI to high def video data
- onboard laser altimeter
- PX4 and Ardupilot software
- 2.55 meters long
- 2.7 meter wingspan
- .50 meter height
- max takeoff weight 14 kg
- max flight distance 30 km
- max flight altitude 3000 m
- electric aircraft engine
- cruising speed 120 kmh
- max flight speed 150 kmh
Albatross for Forestry:
Forestry companies need a lot more coverage than what any current market rotary drone can provide. This means operations with smaller budgets may have trouble finding an affordable drone. The Albatross UAV from Applied Aeronautics could be an excellent solution.
The Albatross fixed wing drone is by far the best alternative to the more expensive Penguin C (above). It’s flight time is 1/10 of the Penguin C, but 5 hours is a lot better than rotary drones in the market (with a max flight time of approx. 30 minutes).
This fixed wing drone comes as a kit, or ready to fly. Don’t let the hobby angle turn you off as far as considering it for commercial use. It can collect aerial images and video like any commercial level drone – it’s just that they wanted to make their technology accessible to consumers as well as commercial operators.
Like the Penguin C, the Albatross can be launched from a catapult, but it can also be launched from a tiny runway. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the parachute landing feature, but it can land on very small runways (even dirt roads in the middle of a forest landscape).
See it in action: Tel Aviv Aerial Footage taken with an Albatross
Forest management professionals take special note of the the first key applications mentioned in Applied Aeronautics’ specification sheet – “aerial mapping and surveying, surveillance and reconnaissance”. This may be ideal for forest management.
Another important feature worth mentioning is it’s autonomous option. You can setup your data collection missions and let the drone take off, do it’s rounds, come back, and land on it’s own. Simply pick it up and collect your video and images.
Note the starting price of $6200 (actually just shy of that). From there you can add your accessories, cameras, etc., and the Applied Aeronautics team will assemble it and test if for you. Use their “ready to fly” page to see how much each accessory and option costs. When I added ALL the highest end options, including training, infrared, and dual screen ground station (over $10000 it self) it came to $32,137.70.
However, when I chose the base options required for forestry applications (and no manufacturer’s training) it only came to $11,412.
I would especially like to acknowledge the work of Jaime Paneque-Gálvez, Michael K. McCall, Brian M. Napoletano, Serge A. Wich, and Lian Pin Koh in their study entitled:
Small Drones for Community-Based Forest Monitoring: An Assessment of Their Feasibility and Potential in Tropical Areas” – read full study here.
The following entities invested in this important document:
1) Centro de Investigaciones en Geografía Ambiental (CIGA), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Antigua Carretera a Pátzcuaro No 8701, Col. Ex-Hacienda de San José de La Huerta, Morelia 58190, Michoacan, Mexico
2) Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), Bellaterra 08193, Barcelona, Spain
3) School of Natural Sciences & Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, James Parsons Building, Byrom Street, Liverpool L3 3AF, UK
4) Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Science Park 904, Amsterdam 1098 XH, The Netherlands
5) Environment Institute and School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia
From Justin the Albatross and Penguin C
The Albatross is listed with a ground station, electric propulsion, and top notch ground station, while the Penguin C is not. The penguin C with electric is nearly half the flight time and range of the Albatross. It is not accurate to compare gas vs electric, when electric is available on both. Naturally, gas contains 60x the energy density of even the best li-ion batteries. Thus, comparing endurance of gas vs electric is not scalable. When considering the Penguin C electric vs Albatross, the Albatross outperforms the electric Penguin C.
Furthermore, the Penguin C, in electric form is nearly $30,000 not including catapult, parachute, or ground station as mentioned assumed in the article. Thus, your price is comparing the Albatross with a $10k ground station vs the Penguin with a customer provided laptop. Also, their training program is at additional cost and is NOT included in the quoted price, yet the author comparsd5it to the Albatross with all bells and whistles plus training.
Albatross has a 3.0 meter wingspan, not 2.7 – the Albatross has a max (rated) takeoff weight of 10kg, which is listed in addition to 14kg. The truth is that the max take off weight is 10kg. The air-frame ready to fly without payload or battery typically weight 2.5kg, the other 7.5kg is a combination of battery and payload, dependent on requirement. At full battery capacity it can fly in excess of 6hrs.
Other than these corrections, it is a well written article. I would venture to say it seems a bit biased towards the Penguin C, however UAV Factory is not listed as an entity invested in the article, per the source provided.
Forest Industry Outreach
I reached out to the following logging companies and forestry management companies for their comments on the use of drones in their operations. I will update their comments as they come in. In the future I will be continuing my outreach to forestry companies based outside of the United States and Canada.
Western Forest Products(CA)
Sinclar Group Forest Products(CA)
Anderson Pacific Forest Products(CA)
Coulson Forest Products(CA)
Conifex Timber Inc.(CA)
Inland Forest Management(USA)
About the Author
My name is Betty Truitt and I’m a writer and research specialist. I am passionate about researching, writing, and publishing. You can connect with me on Twitter.
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