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Seismic

Surveys Searching for


valuable
underground
deposits of oil
Helicopter use
in such projects
has increased
during the past
Getting Geophysical with GPS and natural
gas, companies
decade, driven
in part by
Allan Chatenay explore the environmental
rugged terrain concerns and
of the Rocky low-impact
Mountains in seismic survey
northwestern methods. Now,
Alberta, GPS-equipped

T he loud whine of helicopter


turbines pierces the golden
silence of autumn dawn in
the Rocky Mountain foothills. A
few dozen wiry and determined
workers sip coffee from steam-
Canada, relying
on GPS for
crucial asset
tracking and
management
helicopters are
the focal point
in moving and
keeping track of
equipment and
ing cups and kick at the frosty capabilities. personnel.
ground, impatiently awaiting
their morning ride.
Within a few minutes, the
helicopters are loaded with
workers and gear. Soon, the
heavy, rhythmic thumping of the
Allan Chatenay helicopters fades into the hills
Schlumberger across the icy green of a moun-
tain river. Once at their remote
location, the quartet of heli-
Allan Chatenay is the copters will spend the day
Canada Manager for deploying people and equipment
Schlumberger’s Evaluation throughout the heavily forested
Seismic Division. He has hills.
been with the company more Thus begins another day on
than 10 years and began his our geophysical exploration pro-
career as a surveying ject, with our client taking aim at
assistant. a large gas reservoir trapped
more than 3 kilometers below the
Photographs courtesy of surface in folded and faulted
Jim McLellan, Eagle Earth structures. With nearby
Navigation Systems Inc. wells staking claim to gas reser-
voirs exceeding 400 billion cubic
feet, and worth $1.2 billion dol-
22 GPS W O R L D May 2000 www.gpsworld.com
code GPS receiver, and a hand-
held data controller, permitting
accurate surveying without line
of site as with optical-based
instruments. This new technol-
ogy allows us to lay out our sur-
vey without cutting down any
trees, making our program both In the photos above, air
environmentally benign and hammer drilling equip-
ment drives 20-meter
lars at today’s prices, the poten- to other geographic data, such as invisible to the aerial
holes into the earth,
tial payoff is large enough to land holdings, existing geologi- photographer. which are then loaded
warrant the significant expendi- cal features, or future drilling Following close behind the with explosives for use
tures required to find the reser- locations. survey crews, helicopter-portable with an array of sound-
voir. Because of those costs, it is A Hot Start. To that end, we drilling crews use the twin- sensitive equipment to
also worth our time to investigate began our enormous and com- engine aircraft to hoist 2,800- paint an accurate pic-
the latest technologies and how plex operation months before, pound pieces of air hammer ture of underground
reservoirs of oil or nat-
they might facilitate our work. late in summer. At the time, tem- drilling equipment through the ural gas.
We have done just that with GPS peratures soared near tropical hills. The air hammers drill thou-
and other positioning devices, levels. Line clearing crews, sands of 20-meter holes, and
discovering much more than just whose job it is to clear a path for each hole is loaded with a 10- On the preceding page,
monetary benefits along the way. our vast array of seismic sensors, kilogram, high explosive depth a helicopter ferries
had toiled under blazing sun, charge. equipment slung below
PAINTING THE GEO-PICTURE sweating their way up forested Breezing into Fall. Then, as the the aircraft on a longline
Through our work with the land hillsides that had become brittle autumn winds blew in the first that can stretch as long
seismic segment of Schlum- and tinder dry. In the valleys, few flakes that would soon create as 50 meters. Above
berger oilfield services, formerly they had waded through stagnant a blanket of snow covering our left, a ground crew
known as Geco-Prakla, our muskeg bogs, a perfect and fer- prospect area, my blood pressure attaches bags of record-
objective is to paint as accurate a tile breeding ground for the mil- rose as the mercury fell. As ing geophones onto a
picture of the subsurface geology lions of mosquitoes that eagerly country manager, my role is to helicopter’s longline for
as possible. We do this by gener- and aggressively pursued their ensure that our client’s expecta- transport into the field.
ating sound waves at one source blood-rich flesh. tions are met on the dozens of
point at a precise moment in time For the most part, line-clear- projects we are simultaneously
and listening for those sound ing crews work directly with involved in. Most of these pro-
waves using sensitive receiving surveyors using a state-of-the-art jects are challenging, but our
devices, called geophones, posi- inertial navigation system inte- experienced and efficient team
tioned at varying distances and grated with GPS to stake out the gets the job done.
azimuths from the source point. geophysical survey. In particular, Soon, the recording crew
By analyzing the characteristics our crews use a system designed arrived, bringing at least 50 addi-
of those sound waves (arrival by Schlumberger that consists of tional workers and more than
times, amplitude, frequency con- a 18-kilogram, carbon-fiber 3,000 channels of recording
tent), we can create a detailed backpack, containing three small equipment — more than 250
picture of the subsurface, ring laser gyros, three accelerom- kilometers of cabling, as many as
enabling us to relate our survey eters, a 12-channel, L1, C/A- 500 ruggedized electronic boxes,
www.gpsworld.com GPS W O R L D May 2000 23
on the wall to keep track of
equipment deployment status
and to track the locations for all
the source and receiver stations.
In addition, on the ground, we
used to mark the targeted areas
with flags to show the pilot
where to drop the load. This also
required sending personnel to the
stations before deploying equip-
ment there, which meant another
helicopter flight and required
additional coordination and con-
trols to ensure their safety. While
these methods worked, they were
inefficient, error
prone, and made
poor use of existing
technology.
If we were still
doing things the old
way, each time it
snowed our flagging
would be buried,
blown away, or eaten
The photo above depicts and nearly 20,000 geophones, by wildlife. We
a typical staging area in sensitive sound-receiving would therefore have
the field, complete with devices — in all, a doghouse full naissance mission to the area. to send workers back to revisit
longline bags and geo- of sophisticated electronics. The The helicopter pilots use it to each equipment drop site before
phone recorders awaiting crew’s equipment costs more record the locations of the deploying equipment. Finally,
transport to remote sites. than $10 million to assemble and dozens of landing zones that dot we would have to remove all the
At right, a recording truck typically causes at least as many the prospect area. We also estab- flags at the time we retrieved the
records geophone data logistical challenges. lish a large survey control net- geophones and cabling. This was
and houses the vital link During the project, all of this work over the entire project area time consuming and costly, espe-
to helicopter pilots in the equipment is laid out along the using dual-frequency GPS cially when the flagging was
field, providing dispatch- receiver lines prepared earlier by receivers in static mode. frozen into ice or snow.
ing and tracking for the line clearing and survey We recently took our use of We are obviously happy to
equipment and personnel crews. A geophone array is GPS to a new level, by employ- avoid those extra steps now, and
in the field. planted into the ground at each ing a real-time GPS guidance have discovered other benefits of
receiver point staked out by the and tracking system for deploy- using GPS. We are now less
surveyors. ing our assets and people in the reliant on voice communication,
As each source point is deto- field. While we once used GPS for instance, as it is no longer the
nated, the corresponding signal mainly for mapping and layout sole means to relay instructions
generated by each geophone tasks prior to acquisition of the to the pilot about where to fly.
array is transmitted to recorders seismic data, we’ve now embed- Our new system has elimi-
housed in trucks at our staging ded GPS into the actual acquisi- nated many of the inefficiencies.
area through the network of tion process, allowing project Although the program still offers
cables that will be deployed on managers to see the current sta- many challenges, my life, as well
the ground. If all goes well, our tus of the total acquisition as those of my coworkers, cer-
client should have the resulting process and location of their tainly got a little easier with the
data in their hands in time to assets. GPS information inte- addition of GPS positioning.
mobilize their drilling rig to a grated with communication links
suitable drilling location this and dynamic databases are the SEARCHING UNDERGROUND
winter. To get this all done, we tools that provide position and Seismic projects are often
now rely on GPS as our guide. time tags of where things are and referred to as two-dimensional
when and where events occurred. (2D), 3D or 4D layouts. Two-
GPS ON THE SCENE A New Method. This ability to dis- dimensional seismic projects
We use GPS technology play GPS data has also changed consist of a single line or several
throughout the program. First, our approach to crew manage- lines that range in length from
our scout uses GPS to help find ment. Until recently, the crew less than a kilometer to hundreds
his way during the initial recon- coordinator used to hang a map of kilometers. This provides us
24 GPS W O R L D May 2000 www.gpsworld.com
with an image in the form of a vey data to create the desired require a multitude of coordi-
“slice” of the subsurface. image of the subsurface. nated tasks to be carried out with
On a 3D seismic project, we We generate sound energy at precision to ensure the project
acquire a “cube” of data by lay- each source point by a variety of runs smoothly. These tasks range
ing out source and receiver lines methods, the two most common from deploying and retrieving
in a grid. By repeating the survey being dynamite or vibrators, geophones, power sources, and
over time, we can obtain a 4D which are large, heavy vehicles cables, to line crews laying out
view of the subsurface, enabling that shake the ground using and rolling up lines on foot, or by
us to observe the movement of sophisticated hydraulic systems helicopter, all-terrain vehicle
fluids and gases in the under- and control systems. Each source (ATV), or snowmobile. Other
ground reservoir. We use infor- and receiver point must be accu- key aspects are trouble-shooting
mation from these surveys to rately positioned and receiver cable or line problems, setting up
delineate the size of an oil or nat- lines must be prepared in the recording truck where infor-
ural gas field and provide an esti- advance to allow crews to plant mation from geophones is col-
mation of the reservoir size. the geophones in the ground and lected; and coordinating the
To acquire these data, we lay lay cables and electronics along dispatching of people and assets.
out a network of source and the lines. Source lines must be Completing all of these tasks
receiver points arrayed either in a prepared to allow for the deploy- requires people, vehicles, and
straight line (2D seismic) or on a ment of drills or vibrators. equipment to be deployed at each
large grid (3D seismic), using A Logistical Nightmare. The chal- of the network layout points sev-
lines that are typically, but not lenge comes in deploying the eral times during the course of a
always, laid out perpendicular to large volume of geophones, project. However, the environ-
each other. We space source and cables, and electronics over an ment and terrain often restrict
receiver points from 5 to 300 enormous area and ensuring that heavy equipment access. In the- The inertial navigation system
meters apart, with the distance the signal from every geophone ory, we would ideally like to lay designed by Schlumberger is a
between lines ranging from less array on the ground will be prop- out all the points in straight lines, 18-kilogram, carbon-fiber back-
than 100 meters to more than a erly recorded to tape. A few but this is seldom the case, as pack that contains three small
kilometer. decades ago, seismic recording permits often restrict access to a ring laser gyros, three
Listening In. At each receiver systems consisted of 24 or 48 property, or exclusion zones accelerometers, and a 12-chan-
point, we plant an array of geo- live channels. Today, our latest exist because of buildings, nel, L1, C/A-code GPS receiver.
phones ranging from a single state-of-the-art recording system pipelines, or water wells. Terrain The mobile backpack system
geophone to more than 72, has a 30,000-channel recording restrictions such as rivers, permits accurate surveying in
depending on the characteristics capacity. To imagine what this is creeks, valleys, and steep hills rugged terrain where line of
of the surface and the near sur- like, think of setting up a system may also limit access. In the case site is not easily obtained. It
face. Each geophone has from in a gigantic football stadium of farmland containing fences, also allows the company to lay
one to four tiny elements consist- with tens of thousands of seats, we often have to take a detour, out surveys without cutting
ing of a coil and a magnet. When where every attendee would have because fence cuts are not down any trees, minimizing
sound waves move the earth a microphone attached to the always allowed. environmental impact.
beneath the geophone, the mag- seat, recording sound waves as
net(s) moves inside the coil(s), they are at each seat. HELP FROM HELICOPTERS
generating a small electric pulse Now, to get a better idea of a As a result of working in this
that is analogous to the sound typical seismic operation, imag- challenging environment, instead
wave moving through the earth ine that the stadium is 10 kilome- of ground transportation, we use
below the geophone. ters long by 10 kilometers wide! helicopters — now equipped
In a typical geophone array, In the often rugged terrain where with GPS. We ferry seismic
the analog waves from all of the our operations take place, recording equipment by slinging
geophones in the array are aver- rodents and cattle chew on it beneath the helicopters in large
aged to eliminate noise in the cables, and lightning occasion- bags, as well as by using these
near surface. This averaged ana- ally hits the cables and destroys aircraft to move people and
log wave is typically referred to the electronics. Lines crisscross equipment to layout points.
as a channel of data. It is sent via rivers, lakes, swamps, muskeg, One driving force for using
cable to an electronic device that mountains, deserts, jungle, for- helicopters and GPS is a new
converts the analog signal to a est, towns, and farmland. We are approach, known as low-impact
digital signal. This device then constantly laying cables down, seismic (LIS) methods, which is
either stores it in memory for recording data for that line, then used on many projects in
collection at a later date or sends picking those cables up and mov- Canada. In traditional seismic
it to a sophisticated tape recorder ing them to a new line. It doesn’t survey projects, crews used large
either through a network of take long to see why we have a machinery to create 6–8-meter-
cables or through radio waves. massive logistical nightmare on wide unobstructed paths through
These tapes are then processed our hands. forests to clear the way for per-
along with the topographical sur- Such complex operations sonnel and equipment. This prac-
www.gpsworld.com GPS W O R L D May 2000 25
has also helped increase project
efficiency. We use real-time
operation management systems
to assist with deployment, mea-
sure productivity, and generate
daily production reports. These
GPS-enabled management sys-
tems, by tracking the movement
and location of assets and per-
sonnel, can be used to create the
desired flow of the project and to
distribute this information to the
stakeholders in real time.
In helicopter-assisted opera-
tions, the project manager will
select where equipment is to be
deployed and then send this
zero when we perform full information to the helicopter by
avoidance surveying on foot with way of a radio-frequency (RF)
our inertial navigation systems. link in real time.
Recording and survey- tice left visible scars on the land- We therefore lay out points in Differential On Board. One manage-
ing crews, wearing scape evident for years after. areas to cut as little timber as ment approach employs a real-
self-contained inertial LIS practices require us to possible. In these cases, no trees time differential GPS (DGPS)-
navigation systems limit the width of the spaces we are cut down — we simply clear based guidance system installed
designed for low-envi- cut for our seismic lines to one a walking trail through the forest, in the helicopter. Using this
ronmental-impact sur- and a half meters, with the goal as we are no longer dependent on method, either large chunks of
veying, stake out of avoiding as much mer- line of sight for theodolite sur- the project or the entire project is
geophone recording chantable timber as possible. The veys nor are we hampered by the loaded into the onboard system.
lines. self-contained inertial navigation forest canopy. The coordinator then communi-
systems we use for our geophysi- Ubiquitous Use. Helicopters were cates with the pilot by RF voice
cal surveys afford us the oppor- traditionally used mostly in links, indicating where bags
tunity for zero impact, or at the mountainous and forested areas should be deployed and
very least, the paths of least because of the difficulties gain- retrieved. The pilot scrolls
resistance through forested areas. ing access with large and heavy through the information on
Avoiding or eliminating tree equipment. We now use them screen to select the target.
cutting is a massive environmen- almost everywhere. In open Optionally, the system can
tal improvement and the main prairie areas, using these aircraft also select the closest target to
reason for doing it. It may have minimizes damage to crops, the helicopter’s current position.
been cheaper and faster to reduces soil compaction, and This system can cause some
destroy trees and ground cover minimizes fence cutting and additional pilot tasking if the
using heavy bulldozers the way repairs. pilot has to move in an irregular
we used to, but that just doesn’t In other areas, helicopters pattern. Real-time DGPS equip-
cut it any more. In addition, often allow us to minimize all environ- ment integrated with a display
GPS doesn’t work under heavy mental impact, which is often a unit guides the pilot to each tar-
forest cover, and we don’t think condition of receiving permit get. At each event that occurs,
that cutting down more trees to approval from a landowner to such as dropping and retrieving
open the forest canopy so GPS conduct surveys on private lands. equipment or transporting per-
will work is a good idea, so we Even if such restrictions are not a sonnel, the information is
use our inertial navigation sys- condition of approval, heli- recorded in the onboard com-
tem instead. copters allow us to tread with a puter and communicated back to
A Money Saver Too. If we cut any much lighter footprint than we the staging area dispatch system
swaths through forestlands, our used to. Overall, the renewed and the recording truck.
clients must also pay full emphasis on environmental val- The information can also be
stumpage fees for any timber cut ues provides us with an increased sent back to the oil or geophysi-
both on private or government- incentive to use our new inte- cal company’s head office, using
owned lands, even though the grated inertial and GPS survey communications links such C- or
landowner still owns the logs. systems. L-band satellites to a hub and
However, new regulations in then over the Internet. The event
place reduce the stumpage fees PROJECT GUIDANCE information is also downloaded
by half when avoidance-survey- Beyond the environmental bene- at the end of the day to a com-
ing methods are employed, or to fits of using GPS, the technology puter and added to a database.
26 GPS W O R L D May 2000 www.gpsworld.com
In the Air. In the helicopter cock- Figure 1 above
pit, a high contrast monochrome shows the compo-
screen is mounted in a rugged nents of the dis-
housing that can be viewed at a patch/navigation
wide angle in intense sunlight system.
Dispatching and More. A more ONBOARD ELEMENTS and is backlit for nighttime or
complex second approach uses a For both management methods, low-light viewing. The display The photo at left
centrally controlled dispatch sys- the mobile navigation system on has an internal heater that shows the
tem. This vehicle guidance and the helicopter is a remote guid- enables it to function in cold man–machine inter-
management system consists of ance unit (RGU) consisting of a Canadian winter temperatures, face housed in a
two major components, namely a vehicle-mounted DGPS naviga- with a design intended for it to be helicopter cockpit
navigation system installed in the tion and guidance system, using stored at temperatures at –20 °C. which provides an
helicopter and office software a 12-channel, L1, C/A-code GPS A 35-watt UHF/VHF radio is intuitive, easily seen
located at a base camp computer. receiver coupled with an OEM used for communicating infor- display of vital mis-
In this system, the project DGPS receiver module (see Fig- mation from the mobile system sion and flight
coordinator holds the responsi- ure 1). The system runs on a to the base station computer. information.
bility to create the missions with computer using a QNX real-time Repeaters located on high points
the target locations. Each of operating system and is con- are often required to ensure a
these targets has a coordinate, nected using RF links back to a solid communication link.
target name, action (for example, single controlling headquarter This component of the system
drop, pickup, land, spray) and station. It includes a remote dis- also uses standard helicopter 28-
attribute (geophone, power sup- play for the pilot and a keypad volt power. A keypad is used to
ply units, special, and so forth) for menu operation. mark pick-ups and out-of-
associated with it. The coordina- For the system to operate in a sequence point selection, and can
tor can view in real-time the tar- helicopter with the antenna situ- also be used to mark sites such as
get that the pilot is locked onto, ated beneath the blades and near helicopter landing pads. Another
the course over ground (COG) the main rotor, it is critical to use feature of the system allows the
and speed over ground (SOG) of a GPS receiver that can handle pilot to select the closest point to
the helicopter, and the azimuth high dynamics and has a fast re- the helicopter that has already
and distance to the target. When acquisition rate. A TSO-C129- not been completed in the mis-
the pilot drops or retrieves the approved, high gain combination sion. The pilot presses a switch
load, the information is transmit- GPS/L-band antenna is used and on the cyclic when a bag is
ted to the coordinator’s vehicle low-loss antenna cable is recom- released from the carousel. The
and displayed on the computer. mended. management system receives a
www.gpsworld.com GPS W O R L D May 2000 27
voltage from this switch, and stand and allows the pilot to Seeing the Constellation. Where
automatically advances to the interpret instructions with a short satellite coverage is adequate, the
next point in the mission after the glance. In actual flight situations, system uses an easily accessible
bag is dropped. Data are stored the pilot often has only a fraction source of DGPS range correc-
internally and mirrored onto a of a second to look at the MMI tions, simplifying system setup
compact flash card for backup screen, so a complex design in the field. A major advantage
and easy transfer to the base would hinder the pilot from of this system is that a continu-
camp office computer. interpreting what information is ous communication link is not
The man–machine interface onscreen. (For more information required to the headquarter com-
(MMI) in the helicopter cockpit about a pilot’s use of the system, puter for GPS corrections.
is a critical factor in the design of refer to the “From the Cockpit” Instead, they are received on
a guidance system for the pilot. sidebar below.) an L-band downlink from a geo-
At first glance, one might think it The navigation system also stationary satellite situated over
would be advantageous to dis- provides several advantages for the equator, which sends spot
play a map so the pilot could see the pilot, including the ability to beams over North America. The
location relative to topographic fly directly to the target without further north in latitude that the
features. During the interface having to follow a map and con- system is operated, the lower the
system’s development, a simula- firm terrain features; the pilot has elevation angle and the suscepti-
tor was developed that allowed the full complement of mission bility to terrain masking. This
the pilots to fly the system on a knowledge without extensive effect is somewhat minimized in
computer, which revealed that radio communication — where a helicopter, as it is usually high
not to be the case. to go and what to drop/receive; enough above the ground that
Feedback from both pilots and and the pilot can mark several trees or terrain does not block the
aviation safety groups led to a waypoints and return to them signal. A local GPS base station
design that is intuitive to under- later (such as a fuel cache). can be setup in areas where it is

FROM THE COCKPIT — A Pilot’s Point of View


While working on a seismic surveying project send a mission to the heli-
in rugged, mountainous environments, the copter. If received enroute, I
helicopter pilot’s day begins early, with the can scan the mission profile to
aircrews meeting at about 5:30 a.m. for ensure it is safe and efficient
breakfast. In remote locations such as the while I am traveling at a safe
heavily forested regions of the Rocky altitude, prior to slowing the
Mountains, we sometimes have to drive 1–2 aircraft down to a low and
hours just to get to the aircraft. After preflight slow speed, where an emer-
checks, we either transport recording crews gency situation would be the
out to their remote lines laid through the most difficult to deal with.
landscape, or wait to ferry bags of equipment to and from work sites. The man–machine interface (MMI) screen in the cockpit allows me
The rugged environs of geophysical surveying projects force pilots to view a lot of information in a simple, effective way, including type
to contend with smaller landing platforms, bushes or trees in the of mission, bag-drop number, distance to the drop site, as well as
landing area, strong winds, and poor weather conditions. We stage helicopter heading and speed. One key advantage of the system is
our daily flights from a prepared langing zone to roughly hewn heli- that it enables consistency between different pilots, thanks to its
pads, dotted throughout the project area and often scratched out of emphasis on getting from one point to the next efficiently. Learning
the environment by slashing crews who sometimes have to site the how to use the MMI is also relatively simple, allowing new pilots to be
helipad in treacherous terrain, such as narrow ravines or steep moun- brought up to speed quickly.
tainsides. These pads, which can number as many as 300 on a large The GPS component provides a great navigation tool, but as a
project, are typically 100 feet in diameter, with a 18 3 12–foot land- pilot, I have to remain diligent and not rely too much on GPS, main-
ing platform. taining a watchful eye for other hazards such as trees, power lines,
In the mountains, winds present one of the most dangerous haz- and other aircraft. Pilots need a lot of discipline to avoid focusing on
ards. Under normal conditions, a loaded helicopter can typically climb the MMI screen and flying like a video game player. If we instead use
300–500 feet per minute. Even a gentle breeze blowing either up or the new technology to its fullest extent, we can fly confidently and
down a mountainside, however, equates to 440 feet per minute, safely.
causing difficulties in efficient flying. Ground crews occasionally
grouse about this fact when they can’t be picked up or brought to Paul Kendall is chief pilot with Peace Helicopters of Edmonton,
their desired location because of wind conditions. Alberta, Canada, a post he has held for four years. He has logged
After ferrying crew members, most of the day is consumed with more than 9,500 flight hours including working on seismic survey
transporting bags, which is where the in-cockpit navigation and dis- projects during the past 15 years. He has flown mainly in western
patch system comes into play. With this system, a coordinator will Canada, as well as Peru and the western United States.

28 GPS W O R L D May 2000 www.gpsworld.com


Equipment bags
are moved from
the staging area
to the field using
a helicopter’s
longline.
Figure 2
shows a diagram
of the bag-drop-
ping operations.

not possible to receive differen- bag weight, the lifting power of


tial network corrections. the helicopter, air temperature,
and altitude. The bags are con-
LOSING THE BAG BLUES nected to a carousel attached to a
On a 3D seismic project, hori- longline that ranges from 25–50
zontal-positioning accuracy of meters. Bags are laid out on the
the source and receiver stations ground by releasing the hook
is usually less than 1 meter. It is holding the bag on the carousel. Figure 3
preferred that the bags be For bag retrieval, it is required shows the
dropped within 10 meters of the to have a person at each pickup components of
target location, otherwise the line point to connect the bag to the the base station
crew will have to carry the carousel. This causes a potential hardware.
equipment further, requiring safety concern, as well as the
additional layout time. Analysis expense of having a number of for landmarks on the map and
of results using DGPS navigation people traveling down narrow ground, effectively reducing the
systems shows that the average cut lines on snowmobiles or pilot’s task load. Without an
distance is usually 3–5 meters. ATVs. However, a new system accurate DGPS system, the pilot
The pilot could get closer, but we call BagRunner has been may often circle a station several
the additional helicopter time developed that will allow the times looking for the station or
would not be cost efficient. It is helicopter to automatically pick the person on the ground. In a
quite common to misplace a bag up bags without requiring per- high production environment,
of equipment that may cost sonnel on the ground. bags are deployed and retrieved
between $20,000 and $50,000. Combining a positioning sys- at rates varying from 20 to 50
The bag or equipment is usually tem with the above-described bags per flying hour. The sling-
recovered, but there may be a pickup system (see Figure 2) ing operations require intense
time delay and expense in locat- enables the helicopter to deploy pilot concentration, and interac-
ing it. By using a real-time track- bags without ground marking tion with the navigation system
ing system, it is possible to and to retrieve bags with no per- must be minimal.
automatically know where the sonnel on the ground, greatly
bags have been deployed speeding up operations as well as BACK AT THE BASE
(whether perfectly on target or reducing personnel costs and Back at the project headquarters,
not) and retrieved. exposure in the field. we run the system software on an
Bussing Bags. A helicopter can The navigation system allows industrial grade personal com-
carry from 5 to 12 bags at a time, the pilot to fly directly to the sta- puter (PC) under Windows 98
depending on factors such as the tion without constantly searching (see Figure 3). It is geographi-
www.gpsworld.com GPS W O R L D May 2000 29
cally situated to be within con- an acknowledgment is received GPS-enabled navigation and dis-
ventional RF communications from the main computer. We can patching, benefits which we can
range of the vehicles or an RF also send a text message to the then pass on to our clients. Since
repeater at all times. We view a aicraft that will be displayed on incorporating the system in May
geographic information system the MMI screen. 1998, we’ve been able to operate
(GIS) console to manage and The system also allows us to more efficiently in the often
coordinate vehicle operations select a number of points in a rugged natural environments that
with the cooperation and active mission. Missions can automati- make the logistical portion of our
participation of the vehicle oper- cally be reversed should the wind projects so challenging. We
ator during a seismic program, change and the pilot want to fly intend to further improve the sys-
providing optimal use of expen- in the opposite direction. The tem and take advantage of new
sive resources. system stores all missions in a technologies and innovative
The headquarters’ software database and keeps track of the approaches, all with the intention
also generates missions for the completed points. of performing a job well done.
This application . . . remote vehicles, displays the cur- An old mission can be re-sent
On the Fly

discovered rent vehicle positions, and pro- to the vehicle, indicating which ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
 environmental concerns vides reports on activities. We points are already completed. We The author would like to
and low-impact seismic can also import base-map infor- can also attach an attribute to a acknowledge the support of Jim
methods have driven the mation from TIFF, DXF, and point in a mission, indicating that McLellan, John Schleppe, Dave
use of new and innovative other file formats into various it contains a power supply unit, Huff, Peter Srajer, and Ronnie
technologies in exploration layers. Source and receiver pre- geophone type, or is a special Louie from Eagle Navigation
land seismic surveys plot and final coordinates are bag. The status of the point on Systems Inc. of Calgary, Alberta,
 GPS technology is not imported from SEG P1 and the display and in the database Canada; Mardon Day with
only a central enabler for Excel file formats. All coordinate changes as bags are dropped and Schlumberger; Steve Matthews
initial project reconaissance information is converted from retrieved, or we can choose to from Venture Helicopters, Cal-
and seismic survey layout, local datum and stored in World manually toggle that a bag has gary, Alberta, Canada; and Paul
but can also serve as a key Geodetic System of 1984 format, been dropped or picked up. Kendall and Clarence Unger
component in a real-time allowing coordinates to be in the Additional Monitors. We can also with Peace Helicopters, Edmon-
navigation, dispatch, and same datum as low-cost hand- place a remote monitor at other ton, Alberta, Canada. ■
asset-tracking system held GPS receivers that are often locations, such as the recording
used for general navigation. truck or at the base camp. By
 such a system allows Mission Profiles. When using the seeing the helicopter’s current
project managers to over- MANUFACTURERS
system, we generally create mis- location on the recording truck’s
come many logistical chal- sions from the source and display, we can delay a shot Schlumberger’s Reservoir Evalua-
lenges presented by seis- receiver lines. For bag deploy- along the receiver lines until the tion Seismic Division uses the
mic exploration projects, by ment, the system can automati- helicopter has moved away from NS500 Kodiak System from Eagle
keeping updated on the cally select a point interval from the live geophone spread. If a Navigation Systems Inc. (Calgary,
progress of operations, as the line. Bag drops can also be helicopter is flying over the lines Alberta, Canada). The Kodiak
well as location of all valu- skidded and offset from the when the shot is detonated, the system employs a 3111R/RT-20
able assets and personnel source or receiver point automat- noise from the helicopter can GPS receiver from NovAtel, Inc.
 a key feature of the sys- ically. Quite often, we need to interfere with the signals (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) and
tem is the helicopter cock- place the equipment halfway received in the geophones. 3000LCE differential GPS correc-
pit interface that allows between two stations, or we may In setting up the remote sta- tion module from OmniSTAR
pilots, who are valuable also need to offset bags a certain tions, a system installed at the (Houston, Texas). The Kodiak sys-
parts of the entire seismic distance from a flight obstruc- base camp will allow us to see tem also uses a RFM96S 35-watt
data acquisition process, to tion, such as power lines. the current status of the bag radio modem from Pacific Crest
quickly and easily receive On the base camp computer, deployment and retrieval. Only Corporation (Santa Clara, Califor-
and transmit vital flight and the system polls vehicles in a the coordinator at the staging nia). Helicopters are equipped with
logistical information sequential fashion with informa- area can create and send mis- combination GPS/L-band antennas
tion transmitted to the base camp sions. All other displays are for from AeroAntenna Technology
every five to 10 seconds. Each monitoring only. All information (Chatsworth, California). Schlum-
time a vehicle is polled, it trans- from the system is stored in berger’s Navpac backpack inertial
mits its current target, position, Microsoft Access–compatible navigation system uses an inertial
COG, and SOG. Any events, database files. Project reports are navigation unit from Honeywell
such as drops or pickups, since generated, giving details about (Morristown, New Jersey) and a
the last poll are also transmitted. the number of helicopter hours, Leica (Torrance, California)
If the communication link is tem- distance flown, and bags MX9400 GPS receiver. The
porarily interrupted, the system deployed or retrieved. Navpac’s handheld data logger is
will accumulate the drops and Reaping the Benefits. We have supplied by DAP Technologies
pickups until the next poll. It will realized a myriad of benefits (Tampa, Florida).
keep transmitting the events until from our investment in using a
30 GPS W O R L D May 2000 www.gpsworld.com