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Learning to fly: Training young heroes to operate drones

Search and rescue operations are tremendously resource-intensive. At the heart of them are often volunteers, who selflessly give their time as members of their local Land Search and Rescue branch, and other volunteer organisations. But more recently, there’s been a new recruit joining the ground crew. Drones, equipped with high-powered thermal and zoom cameras, are now considered a vital tool in search and rescue operations, and it’s easy to see why.

The use of UAV technology in rescue operations like these seems obvious. Drones can effectively sweep vast, challenging and dangerous terrain to locate and save lives without risking the lives of others. The technology is highly capable — the challenge now is ensuring that Search and Rescue teams have the skills and confidence to make the most of UAV technology.

To solve this, Ferntech is partnering with Youth Search and Rescue (YSAR) to sponsor volunteer leaders to undertake UAV training at Massey University. YSAR is an independent non-profit organisation which enables students — young men and women from 14–18 years old — to develop the necessary skills to become active members of community volunteer Search and Rescue and Emergency Management organisations.

As part of their study, the volunteer leaders will undertake a tertiary course that involves online theory, assessments, and RPAS flight practicum (practical training). The leaders will return to YSAR with the skills to train over a hundred students to safely and effectively operate UAVs.

Maureen Chaytor, YSAR’s Volunteer Support Administrator, says YSAR see UAV as being a pivotal part of Search and Rescue techniques going forward. “Innovation is vital for Search and Emergency Management sectors to search quicker and more efficiently”, she says.

The students will learn how to utilise drones in a variety of rescue situations. Typical scenarios might include following tracks to locate lost parties, equipping the drone with heat-seeking camera technology to clear dense bush or navigating hard-to-reach terrain. Tom Goodwin from Ferntech says, “UAVs have the capability of flying equipment into locations, perhaps dropping in first aid supplies to injured parties — the scope and possibilities are incredible.”

By training young people in this new technology, YSAR are paving the way for more efficient and effective rescue operations in the future. The organisation plans to develop protocols for the students undergoing training, so they are ready to join rescue organisations with the capability to implement the technology from day one. By doing so, Chaytor believes that these young people will change the face of Search and Rescue in Aotearoa.

Goodwin agrees, “YSAR and Ferntech intend to futureproof Search and Rescue and Emergency Management for decades to come. Together we’ll train the heroes of tomorrow.”

A selection of high-resolution imagery can be found here.


Youth Search and Rescue New Zealand video can be found here.

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