Midwest Aerial Acquires 3-cm Imagery with DMC II in USDA Project

For 12 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has relied on Midwest Aerial Photography to collect high-quality imagery in tight acquisition windows over thousands of sites nationwide as part of the National Resources Inventory (NRI). In 2011, Midwest Aerial assisted USDA in raising the bar for NRI image accuracy by capturing four-band digital imagery at a stunning 3-centimeter GSD with its DMC II camera during a special Digital Study pilot.

The NRI has traditionally drawn upon film photography as the basis for a statistical survey of land use and natural resource conditions to examine the effects of conservation efforts on non-federal U.S. lands. Serving as a prime contractor under a QBS-contract award process, Midwest Aerial has captured imagery over as many as 16,000 sites in a single NRI season, often requiring the Ohio firm to deploy several of its six aircraft simultaneously.

With a typical acquisition window of 30-60 days and thousands of small targets spread over large regions, the Midwest Aerial team puts its 100-plus combined years of aerial photography experience to the test on each NRI project. The firm has consistently scored a 99+ percent reliability rate at successfully collecting imagery over target sites on the first flight regardless of weather conditions and, in many cases, complex airspace restrictions.

In 2010, Midwest Aerial became the first to purchase a DMC II, an enhanced version of the large-format, square-frame Digital Mapping Camera developed by Z/I Imaging and known for high-quality geometric resolution. The DMC II and its all-digital workflow cut weeks from the standard processing time for aerial photography. The purchase proved so beneficial to Midwest Aerial and its customers, the firm bought a second in 2011 making it the only airborne mapping company in the world with two of the systems.

USDA called upon Midwest Aerial to take the lead in the 2011 pilot to test the efficacy of using digital imagery instead of film photography for NRI applications. The specific goal of the project was to achieve a 3 cm GSD spatial resolution in visible and near-infrared bands over the small-area sites that typify NRI collections. As requested by USDA, the DMC II was deployed for the study.

Midwest Aerial successfully acquired digital four-band imagery over the targets at the specified spatial resolution. In addition to superior image clarity, the project highlighted other advantages of the DMC II. Among these were the ability to simultaneously capture natural color, near-infrared, and black-and-white imagery on a single flight pass, dramatically reducing project fuel costs.

Impressed with the deliverables, USDA is now considering the future of digital aerial imaging in the National Resources Inventory project.