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Take off and landing on cruise ship (while its navigating)

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Has anyone flown (take off and landing) on a cruise vessel while its cruising? Probable to get job with cruise line on small vessel to shoot for their company. Ship's top cruising speed is 16 knots. My drone is a Mavic 2 Pro. Trying to plan ahead. Thanks in advance!
 

clolsonus

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A few years ago we were doing a project with NOAA to build a fixed wing ocean survey drone. (Our concept was to launch into the wind over the railing and then land in the water next to the ship.) We learned quickly that it is really hard to hold a fixed gps position with a large ship at sea. It can be done with a lot of effort, but the captain basically said nope. By the time we powered up and were ready to launch, the ship could have already drifted a mile (between current and wind) which was outside of our line-of-sight limitations. We were developing the system from scratch so I came up with the concept of a pattern route that would automatically relocate itself relative to the ship (errr ground station) position. The operator station had it's own gps and would relay it's position back up to the airplane every few seconds. We were able to demo the system successfully off the north shore of Oahu (from a rented dive boat.) Obviously what we were trying to do is totally different from your mission, but I just wanted to comment that there are many challenges to operating at sea ... some of those challenges can be a bit unexpected if it's your first time out there. (And I'm no ocean expert, I'm from land-locked MN.) :)

You might have some challenges calibrated your magnetometers on a ship with all that metal? There can be incredibly tricky winds in and around the decks of a ship, not to mention many obstacles like railings and lines and antennas. Everything is in constant perpetual motion. I don't ever get puking sea sick, but I do get a slight shade of green if I don't keep my eyes up on the horizon ... and when you go eyes down on your ground station for 10 minutes to draw a route, that can get a bit dicey when there is a lot of motion. Every location and day is different, but we were consistently getting 15-25 kt winds out on the unprotected ocean. I came away from the experience with a new respect for all of those that live and work on the ocean every day.

My best guess is that you'll need to be flying the mavic 100% manually and you won't ever have a chance to take your hands off the sticks or even get a break to hover with sticks centered -- even landing will end up needing to be in some amount of forward flight. Also, you probably want to bring at least 2 mavics in case the first flights are learning experiences. You'll definitely want to coordinate with the captain (I can't imagine they would be pleased with someone flying a drone from their ship without coordination with the bridge.) And you'll want to coordinate with the captain anyway to see if they'd be willing to idle the ship and hold a fixed heading during the flight. It might be a new experience for both of you, so good to be able to work together on it.

I know others have managed to make this sort of thing work so it has to be something that is doable.

For our fixed wing system, we had our fair share of issues. The final demo flight ended in disaster when a wing servo stopped functioning 42 seconds into the flight. We were able to figure out what happened from the low resolution flight log captured on the ground station, and then also were able to recover the shredded wreckage and got the full data log which was nice to have. Here was the first few glorious seconds out by the channel islands on a nearly dead calm day:

A few minutes after that video we were all standing around the shredded soggy wreckage on deck asking the obvious question: So how many can we sign you up for?
 

R.Perry

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I can see a lot of problems with this. I do know a little about flying off of a ship, and landing on a moving ship. Depending on the speed of the ship, winds, you will want to make your approach to land from the rear of the ship and you will encounter turbulence coming off the ship. You will need to be flying at the same speed the ship is when you land, that can be tricky. The helicopter pilots on carriers make it look easy, it isn't.
The other issue you are going to need a launch and recovery area void of people, that may be very tough on a cruise ship.
If you do get permission to do this, I recommend taking off then practice landing so you don't need to tackle landing when your batteries are almost dead.
It does sound interesting to try, I wish you the best of luck.
 
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PhantomFandom

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Has anyone flown (take off and landing) on a cruise vessel while its cruising? Probable to get job with cruise line on small vessel to shoot for their company. Ship's top cruising speed is 16 knots. My drone is a Mavic 2 Pro. Trying to plan ahead. Thanks in advance!
Cruise lines generally do not allow drone usage aboard their vessels, and for good reason. If it is for them, then how do you explain to a passenger that they can't fly their drone and you can?

Besides that, you are looking a t a very tricky and potentially dangerous flight. I certainly would not attempt it on a ship that has passengers out on the decks. The biggest issues would be takeoff and landing from a moving platform. I would only hand launch and hand catch. If you attempt to takeoff or land on the deck, the drone will have a very difficult time due to the simple physics of the flight. As soon as you takeoff, the drone will attempt to lock its position in 3-D space while the ship moves below it. That means a railing will quickly approach and smack into the drone. Landing is equally difficult because the drone needs to be moving at the same speed as the vessel to touch down in one spot. If the ship is moving at 15 knots then the drone is trying to land with a substantial tilt and won't be landing level. It's just a recipe for an accident.

Hand launching and catch will make it doable, but definitely have an assistant. BE CAREFUL.
 
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Thanks for your quick replies. If this is to be organized by the cruise company, do you think that coordinating a time frame (say 15-20 minutes) at which the ship does not go any faster than say 3-5 knots with an active crew member on site communicating with the ship's navigator(s) and having a pre-determined launch/landing area free of passengers, make it a somewhat doable feat? Just trying to view the possibilities of a well coordinated, but very doable operation.
 

R Martin

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Thanks for your quick replies. If this is to be organized by the cruise company, do you think that coordinating a time frame (say 15-20 minutes) at which the ship does not go any faster than say 3-5 knots with an active crew member on site communicating with the ship's navigator(s) and having a pre-determined launch/landing area free of passengers, make it a somewhat doable feat? Just trying to view the possibilities of a well coordinated, but very doable operation.
Wouldn't hurt to ensure that you are outside of US territorial waters (12 miles+ from the shore). "NATIONAL SECURITY. See FDC 9/9586. Unmanned Aircraft (UA) operations are prohibited within 3,000 ft. laterally and 1,000 ft. above military vessels. Operating in the indicated airspace may result in disruption, seizure, or destruction of UA. " That is surface to 2000 feet MSL.
 
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PhantomFandom

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Wouldn't hurt to ensure that you are outside of US territorial waters (12 miles+ from the shore). "NATIONAL SECURITY. See FDC 9/9586. Unmanned Aircraft (UA) operations are prohibited within 3,000 ft. laterally and 1,000 ft. above military vessels. Operating in the indicated airspace may result in disruption, seizure, or destruction of UA. " That is surface to 2000 feet MSL.
The OP said this is a cruise ship. Not a military vessel.
 

PhantomFandom

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Thanks for your quick replies. If this is to be organized by the cruise company, do you think that coordinating a time frame (say 15-20 minutes) at which the ship does not go any faster than say 3-5 knots with an active crew member on site communicating with the ship's navigator(s) and having a pre-determined launch/landing area free of passengers, make it a somewhat doable feat? Just trying to view the possibilities of a well coordinated, but very doable operation.
It would be better but still problematic. Even a vessel without the engines running, is still moving with the current.
 

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If it's a very large cruise ship, they often have a helipad at the front of the ship. Nice large area that is off-limits to passengers, but taking off and landing on the FRONT a moving ship (even if hand launching/catching I can imagine is also a recipe for disaster. You would probably have to take off with a lot of forward stick in ATTI mode to avoid slamming into the bridge. If it were me attempting to do this, I think I would make arrangements to hand launch (with an assistant) from the highest deck at the very back of the ship while holding the drone out over the railing, and retrieve it the same way at the same location. Unfortunately, you will have to deal with a lot of wind turbulence in that location. But it would seem to be the safest way of doing it. I'd also have the assistant catcher wearing gloves and motorcycle helmet with face shield.
 
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R.Perry

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I find this an interesting subject. One thing, you are not going to get is a cruise ship captain to control the ships speed and heading for your mission. Secondly the ship may not be heading into the wind so now you would be not only dealing with turbulence off the ship, but potential crosswind issues.
Do you know anyone that has a pontoon boat with a large cover or possibly a flat bed truck. If so I would recommend attempting to land on either going say 10 mph. First heading into the wind, then with a crosswind. This should give you a very good idea of the problems associated with landing on a moving object.

One thing you may consider is asking if you can fly when the ship is in port and most of the passengers are out sight seeing. That would eliminate moving object problem and may increase your chances of getting approval.

We have a couple of flat bed trucks on the ranch, I think I'll give it a try and video the attempt. I have an old Phantom 3 that I'll use, won't hurt so much if it crashes.

As for catching a drone by hand, I think that is a very bad idea, but that is just my opinion.
 
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PatR

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Commercial military drone operators have had functions in place dealing with all the mentioned concerns for maritime ops since 2008. Most of it is resolved through software, and fully automated. The rest is resolved through use of aircraft with enough speed to keep up with the vessel.
 

Mavic Mac

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Commercial military drone operators have had functions in place dealing with all the mentioned concerns for maritime ops since 2008. Most of it is resolved through software, and fully automated. The rest is resolved through use of aircraft with enough speed to keep up with the vessel.
They also probably have a much bigger budget to work with 😁
 

MapMaker53

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One thing, you are not going to get is a cruise ship captain to control the ships speed and heading for your mission. ..... One thing you may consider is asking if you can fly when the ship is in port and most of the passengers are out sight seeing. That would eliminate moving object problem and may increase your chances of getting approval.
Getting permission from the ship's captain to do the flight shouldn't be an issue for the OP since it is the cruise company that is hiring the OP and they will probably have worked out the general arrangements with the captain ahead of time to get whatever photos/video of the ship at sea that they want. The ship can always speed up and make up time if they have to slow down for a time during the flight and filming on orders from the company.

The OP did say the job would be on a small vessel to shoot for a cruise company. Sounds like the launch might be from a "chase boat" and not from the cruise ship -- which would make more sense. A smaller boat could remain relatively stationary miles outside of a harbor to allow a launch and flight to take place as the cruise ship approaches and passes by, and then returning to the small boat to land. That way, the cruise company wouldn't be giving the OP a free cruise.
 
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PatR

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They also probably have a much bigger budget to work with
Indeed, but when they need something that works they dive in and get it done. Using all of our money they need to spend, of course. Shortly after they sell it to LEA’s for pennies on the dollar or give it all to them under government grants.

For those enterprising people that might consider developing mission software for maritime ops, they need to start out linking flight plans and home points with the dynamic position of the vessel. From there the flight plan moves with the vessel.
 
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R.Perry

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Indeed, but when they need something that works they dive in and get it done. Using all of our money they need to spend, of course. Shortly after they sell it to LEA’s for pennies on the dollar or give it all to them under government grants.

For those enterprising people that might consider developing mission software for maritime ops, they need to start out linking flight plans and home points with the dynamic position of the vessel. From there the flight plan moves with the vessel.
Pat, can you explain how that would work. If I"m understanding you correctly you are saying the home point will constantly move with the ship.
 

clolsonus

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Pat, can you explain how that would work. If I"m understanding you correctly you are saying the home point will constantly move with the ship.
The way I did it was to define a waypoint as: heading + distance relative to home. The aircraft itself would do the fancy math to convert these to lon/lat waypoints whenever the home position moved. The operator station had a gps and would send up the home location every few seconds as part of the communication stream. I also let home have a heading (presuming a ship underway will have a heading.) The route would not only reposition itself, but would reorient itself as well.

For example you could plunk down two points at 45 degrees offset in front of the ship at some distance. The UAV would fly back and forth between those two points, which would keep moving, over the surface the UAV would make a zigzag pattern in front of the ship. It really boils down to what concept of operations do you want. It makes an interesting demo, but if you were doing some sort of survey it leaves huge gaps if the ship does more than inch forward.
 

clolsonus

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This is kind of a dumb video, but back when I was first messing around with autoland stuff I programmed the FlightGear F-14 to autoland on the moving carrier (with any arbitrary cross wind.) The computer doesn't care about visibility so you can easily land in some pretty intense conditions:

Here's a more technical video with a camera view on the deck at the touchdown target point looking up the ideal glide slope ... so the aircraft should center itself in the view and hold that position all the way in. I do a couple approaches in different wind conditions:
Again, dumb old videos but fun to dig up and look at again to remember what I was fiddling with 10 years ago (or more?)
 

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Maybe I am missing the point. Is the OP using a DJI product? And if so, why not using the home on controller vs the hard home option? That will get you back close enough to recover manually.
 
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PatR

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I was going to suggest similar. Both DJI and Yuneec employ a dynamic home position. When the controller/GCS moves, so does the home point.

Considering the type of aircraft to be used and the product desired I kind of feel the OP is seriously over thinking/over complicating the business plan. The aircraft use batteries and therefore be flight time limited, which limits range of use.

The OP will find that he won’t be able to provide 360* coverage of the ship due to magnetic interference so the aircraft will be maintaining a clear signal path between the controller and the aircraft most all the time. To obtain 360* coverage he would have to operate from on top of the bridge structure.

Any emergency flight plan than repeated crosses back and forth in front of the ship is a no go. If and when something goes wrong the ship becomes an obstruction the aircraft could impact. Lost comm flight plans should never be set up in a manner that could endanger the vessel or it’s passengers. There have been instances where UAV’s have accidentally impacted a war ship during flight operations and the after action reviews were scathing for the UAV crews and companies. Regardless of how little the damage the event achieves gigantic proportions the instant it occurs.

Then you encounter the ship’s speed issue. As an Oasis class cruise ship displaces over 100,000 tons and weighs more than twice that they employ a best economy cruise speed. Altering that speed costs time and LOTS of money, so the captain, who is partially graded on his ability to minimize operating costs and achieve schedule times, will be loath to make speed changes. It would be more cost effective to charter a 70’ fishing boat and chase the ship to get the shots. Middle of the ocean shots look pretty much the same wherever obtained with the weather and sea state providing the most visible differences.
 

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