Between sky and leaves, on its own or combined with the “sledge” or other objects it can carry, the airship proves in perfect harmony with tropical forest canopies. Thanks to it stability, low speed and precision, scientists are able to view the canopy from a new angle. Its measured moves provide an ideal research area for collecting, sampling and measuring.
The AS 300 is a hot air airship of 8500 m³, the necessary volume to carry the 750 kg of the Canopy Raft, which makes it the biggest airship in the world. Its original calling was to convey, set down and move the Canopy Raft on tropical forest canopies. But in the course of exploration missions, other applications soon appeared, most notably in relation to the “sledge” – a kind of inflatable gondola that can convey three people onto the canopy, to collect botanical and entomological samples (see www.radeaudescimes.org) Botanists and entomologists maybe the most representative of scientists to have made use of our airship and its peripherals to study and promote the canopy, they are not the only ones. The airship has also proved of great use in the following disciplines:
Aerology, aromatology, bioclimatology, floral biology, biomechanics, biophysics, bryology, cartography, forest ecology, evolution, floristics, genetics, herpetology, lichenology, mammalogy, medecine, microbiology.
To make manoeuvring easier and to meet scientific needs, the airship was fitted with “reverses” devised to decrease the speed of the airship rapidly, to bring it to a halt on a specific location, to hover above a given spot and to move backwards. The device is very simple: blast from the propeller is being sent back to the front of the airship. It is very effective with the sledge, when passengers happen to get trapped under branches.
A 2 m2 “terrace” is available to researchers, next to the gondola, where bulky material can be stacked and manipulations made easier, as in cartography, sample collecting and gas analysis during flights.
In the course of Canopy Raft missions, I became aware of the importance of our airship, from a technical point of view, of course, to convey the Raft, pull the “sledge” and facilitate other scientific experiments, but also in terms of giving botanists and biologists a chance to see the forest from another perspective.
The airship gives the possibility of flying very slowly to pick up, via the sledge, fruits and flowers which are normally collected, damaged, at ground level, and then only a few moments later to go up by 400 metres to have a global view of the forest, to breathe in smells from the canopy or to catch sight of a group of monkeys on top of the trees.
The most ordinary flight becomes amazingly important for researchers: they can see the forest from above, and their emotion is understandable – a highly structured universe is suddenly revealed to them, things falling into place. They discover a fantastic garden with a great variety of shapes and colours. Tree crowns, that can go in a few days from the most tender of greens to the brightest red, all fit in together in a giant jigsaw. We are far away from the seemingly messy undergrowth. The organization of this vegetal universe emerges from a mere change of perspective, a third dimension giving it its full meaning