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Yamaha Autonomous-flight Unmanned Helicopter deployed for observation illegal dumping around Mt. Fuji

February 06, 2002

At the request of the Shizuoka Prefecture Environment Dept., Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. (YMC) will run experimental unmanned helicopter flights for observation of illegal waste dumping around the lower slopes of Mt. Fuji. The purpose of the flights, conducted with the Yamaha “RMAX” industrial-use unmanned helicopter equipped with video cameras, was to test the viability of filming images from the air to be analyzed for evidence of illegal dumping and to get an overall view of the present status of such dumping activities.

The helicopter used in these observation flights is an “RMAX ” industrial-use remote control helicopter developed and marketed by Yamaha for agricultural use, which has been specially equipped with GPS (Geographic Positioning System) sensors and gyro sensors to enable a high degree of remote flight control. The resulting “Autonomous-control Spec” RMAX can be controlled by means of commands sent from a specially programmed personal computer at the ground base to control the helicopter’s position, flight direction and speed. It has a flight range of about two kilometers and a continuous autonomous-flight time capability of one and a half hours.

Under the direction of the Waste Disposal Measures office of the Shizuoka Prefecture Environment Dept. and with the participation of related groups and agencies including the Fuji Foothills Illegal Dumping Prevention Network Promotion Council, an operation team from Yamaha’s Sky Operations have set up a ground base at the Fujinomiya City General Waste Final Disposal Facility, from which flights will be conducted to film the surrounding areas from the air with the helocopter’s video camera and study the possibility of using the resulting film to conduct observation patrols.

This Yamaha “Autonomous-flight Unmanned Helicopter” has already been used for the world’s first successful autonomous observation fights out of the range of sight in April of 2000 over the erupting volcano Mt. Usu in Hokkaido and in February of 2001 over Mt. Oyama on Miyakejima Island. At Yamaha Motor we are anxious to see this helicopter which was originally developed for agricultural use take the advantages of unmanned flight into new areas of use as the “Autonomous-flight Unmanned Helicopter” version employing Yamaha-exclusive control technologies. Already its uses have expanded to the areas of environmental, geographical and security observation and research, and now with this latest project the area of illegal dumping prevention.


Yamaha “RMAX” industrial-use unmanned helicopter

Specifications for the GPS Autonomous-flight Unmanned Helicopter (RMAX base)


Main rotor


3,115 mm

Tail rotor


545 mm

Overall length


3,630 mm (including rotor)

Overall width


2,000 mm

Overall height


1,220 mm



Approx. 95 kg




Liquid-cooled 2-stroke, horizontally opposed



246 cc




Starting system


Electric starter



Gasoline-oil mix


Continuous flight capability


Approx. 1.5 hr. (with auxiliary tank)

Max. fuel capacity


11 liters

Flight speed


Over 15~20 km/h (controllable to 0.5m/sec. increments)

Flight elevation


150 m above ground (by fight law)

Observation range


Approx. 2 km

Emergency measures


Automatic return setting (in case of signal disturbance)

Positioning control accuracy


Within 1 cubic meter (position, elevation)

Equipment mounted


Video camera: 1



Navigational-use CCD camera



- fixed cameras: one each front and rear



- Movable camera: one front-right

Other mountable equipment:

- Radiation meter

- Ultrared camera equipment

- Gas collection device

Profile of Yamaha Motor Company’s Sky Operations


In 1983, Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. received a request to develop a new kind of unmanned helicopter for crop dusting purposes from the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery Aviation Association, an external agency of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery of Japan in charge of aircraft operations for agricultural and forestry use. That began initial research and development efforts that led to the completion of the Industrial-use Unmanned Helicopter “R-50” in 1987. In November of that year the R-50 was successfully used in an actual crop dusting demonstration at the “Industrial-use Remote Control Helicopter Display and Demo Flight” event organized by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery Aviation Association and held in Ibaraki Prefecture. Then in December monitor trial use was begun as an initial step toward full-fledged marketing of the product.
Research and development efforts in the field of industrial-use unmanned helicopters is being carried on around the world, but the Yamaha R-50 with its payload of 20 kg was the first practical-use unmanned helicopter for crop dusting in the world.
In 1988 a course in industrial-use unmanned helicopter operation was included in the curriculum of the Nagano Prefectural Farmer’s Academy, after which adoption of such courses spread to agricultural schools around the country.
When the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery officially announced a policy of providing instruction in the use of unmanned helicopters in crop dusting for rice farming in 1991, Yamaha initiated plans for full-fledged marketing of the R-50.
In 1992, when the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery included funds for unmanned helicopters in its budget and the National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Association (ZEN-NOH) adopted a policy of promoting the use of unmanned helicopters, these new helicopters became the focus of attention as a new device for next-generation environment-friendly agriculture.
Industrial-use unmanned helicopters are now recognized as devices that offer solutions to several of the problems confronted by Japanese agriculture today, such as the overall aging of the farmer population and the lack of younger generation heirs to continue farming, the problem of restrictions on pest-control crop dusting by airplane due to the increasing occupational diversity and the spread of residential areas in agricultural areas and the depressed cost of agricultural products. At the same time, the use of unmanned helicopters has spread to other crops besides rice, including wheat, oats and soybean in 1992, lotus root in 1993, daikon radish in 1994 and chestnut groves in 1995. And as use continues to expand to other kinds of orchard and vegetable farming, the ongoing standardization of rice paddy work has made the use of these unmanned helicopters even more effective for crop dusting in the rice industry.
Also, a new industry using industrial-use unmanned helicopters for pest control (NACS) is being established nationwide to relieve farmers of the formerly labor-intensive job of pest control in their fields.
Meanwhile, the “National Industrial-use Unmanned Helicopter Flight Technique Competition Society” which got its start in 1992 was the recipient of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery Prize for contribution to the industry in 1998.
The release of YACS (Yamaha Attitude Control System) in March of 1995 made learning control of industrial-use unmanned helicopters, which until then had been considered quite difficult, a much easier process. As a result, it became possible for most people become proficient at crop dusting after just a short period of training, thus making this device accessible to many more people, including more women.
In October of 1997, Yamaha released its new RMAX industrial-use unmanned helicopter, which featured greater payload capacity and greater ease of operation.
Today approximately 1,200 units of Yamaha industrial-use unmanned helicopters have been sold and are in use around Japan, representing a 77% market share. And, the number of people capable of operating them has grown to about 6,500 nationwide.
In 2001 the total area of farmland being dusted by industrial-use unmanned helicopters reached 310,000 hectares and they are receiving increasing attention among the various farm equipment being used for planting, weeding, fertilizing and pest control in the standardized farming system promoted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery for low-cost agriculture. Furthermore, their potential as high-performance agricultural equipment for contractor-type farming operations is expected.
Today, these industrial-use unmanned helicopters are expanding their fields of use beyond agriculture and the especially big possibilities of unmanned autonomous flight has led to research projects in countries around the world aimed at the development of autonomous flight systems for unmanned helicopters using GPS. Amidst this trend, the use of a Yamaha RMAX equipped with a GPS autonomous flight system in April of 2000 for observation over the erupting volcano Mt. Usu in Hokkaido was the first case in the world of successful helicopter operation out of the range of sight by means of a GPS autonomous flight system.

Number of contracted dealers

22 nationwide

Main uses

Crop dusting (rice paddies, field crops, orchards), direct planting insecticide dusting, fertilizer dusting, etc.

Main customers

Municipalities, ZEN-NOH, prefectural chambers of commerce, pest control organizations, agricultural producers, pest control companes, etc.

About the “Sky Tech Academy”

In order to use an industrial-use unmanned helicopter for crop dusting, it is necessary to acquire proficiency in remote control helicopter operation and skills in dusting technique and knowledge of dusting chemicals. In order to become an industrial-use unmanned helicopter operator, one must first complete a course of instruction at a “Sky Tech Academy” training school authorized by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery Aviation Association (Nosuikyo). Once the person achieves the required level of proficiency in operation at a Sky Tech Academy, he or she receives a “Certificate of Industrial-use Unmanned Helicopter Technical Mastery” issued by Nosuikyo, which qualifies the person to operate an industrial-use unmanned helicopter. Sky Tech Academy courses are held at specially licensed Sky Tech dealerships around the country, and courses are presently being held periodically at 60 locations nationwide.

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