To the informal spectator, it will look like a collection of adult men and women playing with reproduction aero planes. But in a cautiously planned task next week, a small air show in the Florida Keys will mark a theatrical rise in the war on the state's army of mosquitoes.
Officials accountable for curtailing the swamp-heavy island chain's disease-carrying insects will deploy their first unmanned drone on a test flight. If the flight is victorious, the Florida Keys Mosquito District will deem purchasing the $65,000 aircraft from Condor Aerial, a North Florida-based corporation that holds a contract to provide the Canadian military with drones for reconnaissance missions in Afghanistan.
The aim, according to Michael Doyle, the agency's manager, is to speed up the uncovering of shallow areas of water where mosquitoes lay their eggs, and thus permit a swifter spraying of larvicide.
"If we can find the water, we can kill the mosquitoes. The actual challenge is finding the water fast enough," he told keysnet.com. "What we're looking to see is if this technology can actually see shallow water also out in the open or under mangroves, and how much land can it cover rapidly so the inspectors can get out that day."
Doyle, however, admits the project has a minor object: saving money. The agency employs 40 inspectors, some of whom might be growing nervous that they are about to be replaced by a automatic eye in the sky. "As our budget is getting smaller we're trying to discover ways to cover the same area with fewer people," he said, though he stressed there were no plans to decrease the number of staff.
Workers from Condor Aerial will demonstrate the two-and-a-half foot Maveric drone from the agency's offices in Marathon on 26 August. According to Condor, the Maveric can fly for 90 minutes at an altitude of 200ft, giving it the potential to considerably get better the watch across the 100-mile chain of islands from Key Largo to Key West. "If you try to get crossways the small islands its back-country, its jungle,"
In theory, if a drone were to spot a probable breeding site, using its shortwave infrared camera, an inspector would test the larvae, and then, if essential, call for a bacterial scatter from one of the agency's four helicopters. The most prolific mosquito in the Keys is the Salt March diversity, but a bigger danger is the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can take lethal Yellow and Dengue fevers.
Added that the drone test was one of a amount of initiatives with which the agency was experimenting, including the setting up of more cameras and water sensors. Officials are awaiting federal approval to send in hundreds of thousands of genetically modified male mosquitoes, which would efficiently render the females sterilized.
The drone scheme is headline grabbing but eventually an luxurious way of seeking to accomplish something that could be achieved more inexpensively by conservative means.
"It makes it seem as though we're launching an army of search-and-destroy bots with the only reason of annihilating the blood-suckers. I desire it to be true. But it now isn't," said a science blogger, Jason Bittel, on slate.com. "No matter what the next round of headlines say about slaying mosquitoes by slingshot, dependency or Sharknado, there are 3.3 billion people approximately the world who lives with the daily threat of malaria. And they don't need drones; they need $10 of mosquito netting."