What is Airborne Imaging?

Airborne imaging is a visual survey of an area conducted from an aircraft. In addition to taking pictures in the visible spectrum, the plane can acquire data in the infrared and other ranges of the spectrum to provide more complete information about the area being imaged. Government agencies, researchers, and private companies all use airborne imaging as part of their work. Results of such studies may be released to members of the public or kept secured if they pertain to confidential activities.

Planes, gliders, satellites, and balloons can all be used for airborne imaging. Devices without pilots are often used because they are inexpensive and easy to handle. In addition to being fitted with cameras for image acquisition, they can also be equipped with weather instruments to take readings of temperature, humidity, and other values. A tracker is installed so the equipment can be followed as it moves and collected once it lands again.

A common use of airborne imaging can be seen in cartography, where people collect images of an area to improve or modify their maps of the region. Weather agencies also use this technique to collect data, as do clandestine government agencies interested in acquiring information for national security purposes. Real estate developers and research scientists are further examples of groups who use airborne imaging technology in their work; scientists, for example, may conduct a biodiversity survey of a hard-to-reach area with the use of aircraft.

When airborne imaging involves collection of data from areas of the spectrum that are not visible, it is typical for an image with representative colors to be generated to visualize the information collected. Infrared imaging can reveal things like unusually hot or cool areas in a region with graduated shades of color, for instance. It is important to be aware that even when such images are colorized in a way to look like conventional photographs, they are not photographs in the traditional sense, and the situation on the ground may appear visually very different.

People interested in airborne imaging can often find images of reasonably good resolution online at sites providing maps and directions, as many such sites license images or use their own satellites to acquire them. Other sample images appear on websites that provide information about weather conditions, and they may also be found in textbooks covering a variety of topics, ranging from environmental pollution to archeology, as this technique has far-ranging applications.