Alvan & Pam

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Grey nomads take to the sky with drones
Alvan and Pam’s rig can accommodate their drones

Former helicopter pilot Alvan, 67, and wife Pam, 65, take their ‘drones’ with them as they hit the open road – and the open skies – in their Avan

We had a Supreme Territory off-road but found we spent so little time actually inside, mainly sleeping, that we decided to downsize to a late model Avan Cruiseliner. It has the same ground clearance as the territory and we can get it into those more remote spots still. It has the advantage of low drag when travelling and all the luxuries when camped. I have attached a 3m x 3m roll out awning, a mod which I designed and fitted. We find it superior to the standard Avan thread thru the groove awning. Tow vehicle is a grey import Mitsubishi Delica. 2.8 turbo diesel. A 2000 model, it’s our second one and they are such a great 4WD. Cannot understand why Mitsubishi didn’t import to Australia.

Contrary to what some may think, the Avan does not restrict your headroom. With its 12v electric water pump and hot water supply, double bed and plenty of storage, we love it. Just so happens that the word A’VAN  has a squiggle between  A and V. I’ve extended that down so now we have an ALVAN. Friends are convinced that’s the reason we chose it, but my lips are sealed.

Our journeys to date have been in WA only.  As we both work, our trips away have been annual leave breaks. Shark Bay, Rocky pool, Mt Augustus, Thru the goldfields, Bremer Bay, Albany and most of the southwest.

However, retirement is very close and plans are afoot for a lengthy adventure.  We enjoy free camping for those sites are often remote and crowd free. Commercial parks have become a cashcow for big business but thankfully an increasing number of smaller, and some not so small towns are providing alternative areas for us grey nomads and others to set up for a night or 3 and not have to pay through the nose for it. We can repay their thoughtfulness by using those services that these towns offer, before moving on.

I’ve purchased two quadcopters (drones) to take on our future travels. I like gadgets and figured that with careful thought i may be able to use them when I’m bored but more than that. For 20years i was a commercial pilot, so flight, or things that fly or are wind driven have always fascinated me.

Beginning as a fixed wing flying instructor cum charter pilot was interrupted by a ride with a mate in a helicopter, he touched down on the top of a pine tree.  No more fixed wing for me I decided, then the very next day i signed up for a helicopter course and the excitement began.   Quadcopters or drones as they are  tagged these days come in all sizes with the commercial models costing in their thousands, to smaller lighter models such as mine costing only $100 or so. My smaller copter has gyroscopic stability as does the larger model which enables them to be more stable in flight. The larger model ive been using as a trainer.

Flying these Quadcopters  is a difficult skill to aquire and requires a lot of patience and practice. As the machine flies away from its operator the controls work in a normal fashion, however if you turn it to face you for the return journey all your control inputs must be reversed.  More sophisticated versions have goggles with a screen for the operator who receives live video as if piloting from on board.

That enables the copter to be flown well out of sight  of the pilot providing the signal doesn’t drop out. It can eventually be returned to its takeoff point after completing its task. For $100 you get a basic version that records onto SD card in HD or standard definition. The on board camera activates via a button on the remote transmitter.  The machine must be flown so the operator does not lose sight of it. Video recording can be a bit hit and miss as you judge whether the lens is aimed at the source you wish to photograph. Confirmation can only be gained after uploading to a phone or computer.   My larger model only has SD so it will become the workhorse. Im keen to use it among other things, for transporting my fishing line much farther offshore. The smaller one will be used purely for photography.

As for the future of this technology, i can envisage a time when a licence or permit will be required to operate them in populated zones with priority given to commercial applications providing OH&S  and aviation regulations are complied with.  I enjoyed an interesting flying career having flown in all states of Australia and crossed the country six times at levels usually around 500ft.

I have been a Westpac rescue pilot based in Newcastle, medivacs, road accidents, traffic reports over Sydney. Worked with geologists looking for diamonds in the Kimberley, chasing illegal fishing boats in NT, bushfires in NSW and WA, lost bushwalkers and boaties.

What i enjoyed a lot was the use of my helicopter as a camera platform. Ive worked on many commercials and a number of movies and documentaries. Have been chief pilot of Westcoast helicopters in Perth and also chief pilot at Ch9 and Ch7.  I scored the job flying the main pool chopper over the America’s Cup here in Perth which was a highlight of my career. Not to mention a six-month contract in Dubai flying to the oil rigs in the Persian Gulf.

I have also flown in NZ.  At present my wife Pammy and myself drive public transport buses in Perth. I’ve been heard to say that I used to drive a chopper, now I fly a bus.



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