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airborne sensor operator (5)


Written by Patrick McConnell, President, ClearSkies Geomatics Inc.

My marketing director has been pushing me for over 6 months to write this article.  So today I am putting keyboard to bits and bytes to write something that will hopefully engage the reader to participate by adding comments either for or against my position.

Why consider purchasing used aerial sensor equipment?  There is risk involved, right?  What should I do to ensure the investment (ROI) would be successful?

Purchasing used aerial survey equipment can be a scary thing to do.  The biggest benefit of considering used equipment is that often, the equipment sells for a fraction of the new equipment available to the market.  What is scary about the process?  Well, if it were my money, my concerns would be whether or not the system comes complete (no missing parts or software), is the system still serviceable by the manufacturer, is the software transferable, is there a warranty, will the system deliver the expected specification to my end user, are there export restrictions etc.…  As a broker of such systems, it’s my job to make sure all of these questions are answered to ensure a deliverable that meets the buyer’s expectations.  If there are no surprises, then I feel like I have done my job in an ethical and professional way.

First off, when considering the purchase of any piece of equipment, it is important to understand your end user needs and this must be done in a way that satisfies most of your end client needs.  I have yet to see any equipment that satisfies all the possible needs of different end users so the goal has to be to meet as many scenarios possible.  From an aerial camera perspective, consideration of image quality and swath are very important. From a LiDAR perspective, points per meter, avoiding shadows and swath width seem to be the most desired features.

In the years that I have been in the business of marketing aerial survey equipment, the most significant change I have seen is the market has been two fold for both the camera and LiDAR markets.  First, swath of the data has in most cases doubled while image quality has improved but not at the same rates as swath growth.  Secondly, software workflow and tools have improved greatly by the advent of greater computing power and better tools to fix data.  Both of these factors affect efficiencies so the bigger the jobs, the more money you potentially save by adopting a newer sensor.  From a qualitative perspective, passive sensors like cameras, have improved (better radiometry, smaller pixels, better signal to noise ratios) but not to the point where older sensors (10 year old) have become obsolete.  I have noticed that from a geometry perspective, in general, the improvements have been relative to the improvement of image quality.  So, some improvement, but nothing like footprint improvement.  Also, the geometry generated from these older systems meet most specifications required by the end user.  There are a greater number of these older sensors in operation today than newer sensors and this is because the data generated from these older cameras continue to meet the end user specifications from a qualitative perspective.  For active sensors, the number of clean points per square meter is the big driver for this market.  To achieve this, these sensors are capable of generating more usable point than ever, while pushing the envelope on swath width.  So there are fewer older active sensors still operating in the market today because of the end user desire to have a denser point cloud.

What to look for in buying used equipment?  First, you want to make sure that this equipment has been well taken care of during its tenure with the current owner.  Is the equipment clean?  Has it been maintained by the manufacturer? When was it last used successfully?  Has it been bench tested, or air tested?  Can it be set up in an airplane for viewing and testing?  What are the acceptance criteria?  If needed, what would it cost to have the manufacturer test the system?  Is the post processing software transferable?  Are there any restricted items such as IMUs and how does this affect you? All of these factors play out in pricing of the system.

Why would someone sell his or her own equipment?  The simple answer is that the manufacturers will not usually buy your system back unless it’s on a ‘trade in’ for something newer.  If you have ever purchased a new car and traded in an old one, then you know what that experience will be like…  One of the things manufacturers do to hold you ‘captive’ is they do not restrict the sale of the sensor, but they restrict the transfer of the software making it nearly impossible for you as a seller to control your asset sale to a third party.  It’s akin to buying a Tesla, and allowing for the resale of that car, but without the software included.  Without allowing the transfer of the software in a Tesla, the value of this car results in in a parts only value unless the transfer is done ‘under the table’.  Try getting service on that car after this happens…  This is why in most industries, when you buy an asset, the license of that asset belongs to you, to do as you wish provided you do not reverse engineer the software.  In a lot of cases, in our industry, this is not the case.  You can sell the hardware with no problem, but the software must be repurchased at exorbitant prices.  This fact should be considered when purchasing new equipment.  It is something that should be a negotiating point when purchasing new equipment, otherwise you will be stuck with an unsellable asset later on.  In short, why spend a million + on a new system today if 5 years down the road you will not have control of the sale of the full system?

Why use a broker and not sell your equipment on your own?  Selling equipment through a broker has certain advantages.  You can flow the contract through a broker and avoid any potential litigation with the end user if the system is not delivered as promised.  Exporting restricted items can be tricky and a good broker should be licensed with the Department of State to do these activities.   Shipping of the equipment is not always straightforward and having a broker organize this on your behalf can be a real value.  Finally, good brokers have worldwide reach thus increasing your chances at getting top dollar for your asset.

The morale of this narrative is that if you can, use a broker to help guide you through this process.  Advice is mostly free…


Image: Wikicomons – Cargyrak

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ASOG Members,

You might find this guide or checklist useful in your ASO profession. Based on some ASOs networking regarding career transition and job searching, several of the members of our group put together this simple guide to help. It’s based on their experience, and they just wanted to share their humble thoughts to further the ASO profession and our fellow ASOs.

Below is just is an excerpt from the guide. You can find the full document in the member’s only “Career Center” – “Career Path” – “Career Management Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP)” section of the ASOG webpage (

If you want to contribute additional information to this guide, please speak up, and we’ll put it in the 2nd edition.


ASOG Desk Editor



The Airborne Sensor Operator Career Transition Checklist is intended to serve as an initial job search or career transition tool for Airborne Sensor Operators (ASOs) seeking information on various types of aerial remote-sensing industry sectors.

The checklist section of this guide reflects many of the tasks related to successfully transitioning from one ASO job or aerial work industry sector to another. Every job search situation is different, so personalize the checklist as needed. This guide is divided into sections for ease; however, tasks from “Flight planning,” “Preflight,” and “Taxi & Take-Off” phases may overlap.

Lastly, this is a living document which is periodically updated by the ASOG community to reflect changes in aviation, remote-sensing practices, and the professional environment. Please send suggestions, edits, errata, questions, and comments to

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ASOG News Letter, 2nd Edition

Managing Director's Message

I would like to wish all of you a very happy, safe and prosperous 2018!

At the end of 2017 and five months into our existence (outside of Linked-In), we had over 80 professional members from around the world join our aircrew community, and our reach continues to grow at a good pace. Additionally, we have over 2,500 connections/followers on Linked-In and other social media sites with the same positive response.

What I see for 2018 regarding our group is continue to grow ASOG capabilities & services, motivate networking and enhance career opportunities by the ASOG charter ( 

By this time next year, I anticipate that ASOG will be larger and more formal with a few success stories under its belt. However, the real size, sophistication, and results of ASOG will be determined by you the members.  If you’re interested in taking a more active role in the development of the Airborne Sensor Operator profession, please contact me or just go wild on the webpage. I think the adage of “THE MORE YOU PUT IN - THE MORE YOU GET OUT” is very true.

Speaking of that, I would like to recognize some members who have jumped in and participated since ASOG began. Their efforts, big & small, have made a difference for themselves, other ASOs, ASOG and the ASO profession in general. These members are:

  • Wayne Dahlke
  • Georg DeCock
  • Kyle Evans
  • Phil Linning
  • Michael Sheehy
  • Mike Tucker
  • Juan Pena Ibanez
  • Joshua Cohen
  • Pierre De Backer
  • Harry Macleod

Also, I would like to recognize the following firms for their support of the ASOG mission. Without the bridge between professional ASOs and the organizations that supply, support, train and hire ASOs, we will not advance as an industry:

  • PAvCon
  • AeroEnterprise GmbH
  • Airborne Technologies GmbH
  • GOEL Training & Consulting Inc.
  • DTSI Consulting Inc.
  • R4 Inc.

Again, I wish all of you a super 2018 and I’m looking forward to networking and collaborating with you this year! If you ever have a question or just want to cross-talk, please reach out to me.

Best Regards,

Patrick T. Ryan

Founder & Managing Director, ASOG

General Improvements

As part of ASOGs continuing effort to improve and help all of us as a professional network, a “Supporter” program is now up and running. Like I mentioned above, this program is designed to bridge with companies and organizations that supply, support, train and hire Airborne Sensor Operators. If you know of a company or organization that would like to associate with ASOG, please have them make contact with me ( Again, no fee or donation required, just recognition of ASOG's mission.

Additionally, an “Event” tab is now linked to the Homepage. There is nothing more rewarding than connecting with a fellow member or like-minded professionals in person. The intent of this function of the ASOG webpage is for you to announce that you’ll be at a particular event and that you want to meet. I’ll put Bitcoin on it that you’ll walk away enhancing your professional position and think twice about having the 3rd beer. If you want to use this function, go to “Homepage” and click the sub-tab “Events” then fill out the blanks…that easy!

Shortly, a “Publication Library” will be launched. The intent of this page, like the Link Library, is a resource for members (new & old ASOs) to use in their professional ASO career. The library will consist of community generated or donated documents, articles, checklist, slide presentations and pamphlets. So, if you have something that the community can find useful, please send it to me, and I’ll get it posted.

Speaking of the future, if you have an idea to improve or add to the ASOG project. Let me know. The more feedback on needs & wants will only make ASOG useful to you.

Talking about future ideas, some members have recommended that we beef-up our “Job Center.” If anyone knows of a good service or software that can automatically search and feed ASO or similar job postings, please let me know. I’ll take a look and implement it. Also, do we want a platform for individuals to post their resumes / CVs?

Standards & Guides Update

As part of our mission to standardize & guide our profession, several ASOG documents will be released this year. The first is:

  • General ASO Professional Standards Guide
  • ASO Transition Checklist Guide
  • ASO Resume & Cover Letter Guide

In the future, ASOG would like to post general guides on career path & training standards for specific ASO positions (Aerial Mapping & Surveying, Tactical Flight Officer, Aerial Photographer, TACCO, Tactical System Officer, etc.) and general quick reference technical guides. If you ever wanted to leave your professional mark on the world, this might be the project for you. If you’re interested, reach out to me, and we’ll collaborate.


Our new membership structure has proved very popular for networking and membership is increasing steadily.  I’m delighted to welcome our latest members since 1 Dec 2017:

  • Kyle Evans
  • Amy Cohen
  • Jimmy Burnside
  • Howard Jackson
  • Robert
  • Adam Stiles
  • Glen Moratti
  • Aaron Bettison

If you know of someone who would be interested in being a member of ASOG and advance themselves and the profession, send them to our website ( and have them join. Remember….

“Birds of a feather flock together.”

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We’re all aware that the information, innovation and disruptive (I2D) technology revolution is greatly affecting our world. Besides society in general, one of the main discussion points in this human experience is the effect it will have on jobs & professions in the future, i.e., ” taking the man out of the loop.” Today, the effect of this revolution in the aviation and remote-sensing sector has already started with the everyday application of scalable (size, reliability & cost) unmanned/manned air vehicle systems, sensors, and data processing capabilities. With the fog of tech revolution all around us, what effect does this have on the Airborne Sensor Operator (ASO) Profession?

Based on my experience of over twenty-five years in the airborne remote-sensing profession, both manned and unmanned, I believe the answer to this question is twofold. The first is “Yes,” It is and will affect the ASO profession. The ASO profession is no different than other professions that are seeing or hearing the word “redundant” or “not necessary.” The threat of job loss or shrinking opportunities due to technology changes is “High.” Technology has simplified many functions that an ASO is required to accomplish…e.g… from mission planning to process data. Currently, this technological change has made the ASOs job easier, but the next tech change (which is coming) could be less forgiving regard to “need” of a person in the traditional aerial collection process. Bottom-line, denial, and resistance to this change will only decrease opportunities for ASOs to provide a needed service regarding aerial remote-sensing capabilities to both its clients and society in general.

The second part of this answer is “No”…it will not affect the ASO community as it did to the Air Navigator or other professions…ie…extinction.  However, by history or definition when it comes to aerial remote-sensing, ASOs have always been in a critical position (more so than pilots, flight engineers & navigators) of managing or influencing aerial remote-sensing technology & data. The ASO profession is the Technical Liaison between the collection platform, sensor, and the end-user. Typically, the ASO comes from the end-user community (be it surveying, cinematography, public safety or ISR) with the ability/skill to satisfy collection requirements from the sky. Because of this position, the ASO profession can adapt to the fog of tech revolution better than many professions and continue to satisfy a critical need. Bottom-line, individual ASOs will need to abandon old professional models and innovate new roles & responsibilities as aerial remote-sensing technology changes. How does this look like ASOs will need to expand out of the back seat and take more of a technical or operator lead in the development, implementation, and employment of new aerial/remote-sensing technology at the controls & back offices. Additionally, to be a lead, ASOs will need to adapt to a never-ending rhythm of continual learning & certifying with new systems, aerial platforms, and processes. 

So, to Taxi this post to Parking, the I2D tech revolution is in full swing, and many professions are at risk. The professions that have a chance, because of their technical & client base knowledge & relationship, will adapt & succeed effectively with the advancement of technology. However, the only way for a profession like the Airborne Sensor Operator to leverage their position and advance it into the future is to re-learn, lead and innovate.  I believe the ASO in the aerial remote-sensing sector is in a perfect position be it on the ground or in the air!

So, what are your thoughts? Does our profession have a future?

Image: Wikimedia commons - Mattbuck

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Promoting the ASO Profession

Hi Everyone,

As some of you know, one of ASOG’s goals is to promote the profession ( ). A great method is to share videos or pictures of ASOs doing their job, the systems they use or the missions they fly. The video I posted here (click the image above) highlights the role & responsibilities of an unmanned ISR Sensor Operator Instructor (O’, listen to SSgt Joseph points…spot on!). 

If you have a favorite video or picture that relates to the ASO and aerial remote sensing profession (commercial mapping/surveying, public safety, manned & unmanned collection platforms, sensors, educational lectures, news clips, etc. etc.), let’s see it…just post the link on the Blog Board with a few words highlighting the main points! Also, we’ll share it across our other ASOG Social Media profiles for the public to see.

Thanks Everyone,


ASOG Desk Editor (Patrick)

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