Keystone Aerial Surveys, Inc. Flies Applanix to Gain Efficiencies and New Business
Keystone Aerial Surveys is a leading aerial imaging and remote sensing services company with customers throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Using Applanix POS AV inertial systems since the 1990's, Keystone began using digital cameras ...

Keystone Aerial Surveys ( is a leading aerial imaging and remote sensing services company with customers throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.  Using Applanix POS AV inertial systems since the 1990's, Keystone began using digital cameras in 2005 and has been relying on Applanix positioning technology for all digital aerial survey projects ever since. 


Keystone Aerial Surveys, Inc. has been providing airborne image acquisition and processing services for nearly 50 years. Currently operating a total of 19 aircraft – all modified and equipped specifically for airborne survey operations - the company boasts one of the largest aircraft fleets in the United States dedicated to this task.  

Driven to produce superior images for its customers, stay price competitive, and ahead of the competition, Keystone committed to digital imagery in 2005 when they purchased their first digital camera – the UltraCam D - from Vexcel Imaging, a Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) company.   

The success of the digital camera was immediate and Keystone has since added three more UltraCams to their operation.  Keystone currently flies three UltraCamX cameras and an UltraCam Eagle photogrammetric ultra-large format camera.

Keystone and Applanix
Prior to going digital, Keystone used GPS with its film cameras to obtain more precise image centers.    In the late 90's they purchased their first Applanix POS AV Direct Georeferencing system to aid the GPS in this role.   POS AV uses an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) and a computer system with an embedded GPS receiver to compute both the camera image centers and their orientation with respect to the earth. Having both sets of measurements makes the map production process much more robust and efficient.

As Keystone turned to digital cameras, however, Applanix' inertial technology took on a larger and larger role, eventually becoming "mission critical" and required for all projects.  The primary reasons for this are:

  • Unlike film cameras, there is no scope on digital cameras.  This means the operator cannot manually correct the position of the camera if the plane is "crabbing".  However, with the POS AV inertial system from Applanix driving the camera mount, crab is automatically measured and corrected.  This means no operator intervention or scope is needed.
  • Calculating the misalignment between the IMU and the camera (the boresight) is very easy with the integrated tools included with Applanix software.  This makes correctly georeferencing the data much easier.
  • With Applanix' SmartBase and IN-Fusion technology, there is no degradation in positioning information when the plane is forced to do large bank turns and GPS is lost.  This means Keystone can fly in congested and controlled airspace easily.
  • With the Applanix system controlling the mount, recovery from sharp turns is much faster. 

Flying mostly Cessna Turbo 310R and Cessna Conquest aircraft, Keystone attaches the UltraCam to gyro-stabilized mounts inside the plane.  The Applanix POS AVs are also fitted to the plane, with the IMUs embedded inside the cameras.  With this system Keystone collects black-and-white, RGB, and infrared imagery – all in a single pass.  In addition, 14-bit data is captured, giving Keystone the ability to fly in low light conditions and capture images in shadows.

Today Keystone is flying 4 Applanix POS AV 510s and 3 Applanix POSTrack 510s.  POSTrack consists of the POS AV with an embedded XTRACK Flight Management System.

"We were already using XTRACK with our film systems - integrating the XTRACK with the POS AV worked well but required a few tricks.  But with the promise of the UltraNav, combining the latest POSTrack technology with the UltraCam, integration is simple and clutter free.  Applanix and Microsoft have partnered well together.  This is a real benefit to everyone using Applanix and the UltraCam systems," said Neil DiFranco, Senior Projects Manager, Keystone Aerial Surveys.

In Action Together: Keystone, Applanix and The Clear30 Program
The Clear30 Program was launched by Microsoft Corp. to collect and distribute the first high-resolution, 30-cm aerial imagery of contiguous landscapes, initially in the United States and then Western Europe. The final products are orthophoto mosaics, available through Microsoft's Bing Maps and Digital Globe. Using the UltraCam G, a very large format digital aerial camera custom built by Microsoft, and the Applanix POSTrack 510, large quantities of very high-resolution digital aerial imagery are being collected quickly, automatically georeferenced and published on a consistent schedule.  A total of 8 systems are being used to acquire the entire United States – 3 are operated by Keystone.  Because Keystone is flying areas they are not based in for this project, the Applanix SmartBase software has offered significant value as it automatically finds the best GPS network from Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS) available free on the web.

Ongoing Innovation, High Efficiency
Keystone recognizes Applanix as an industry leader, and one that continues to innovate. 

"Any aerial survey company looking to increase efficiency will benefit from Applanix technology.  They are always innovating.  You can expect a consistent stream of upgrades and new features promoting efficiency when you have their equipment," explains DiFranco.

Increased Business
"Different customers have different specific digital image requirements, and Applanix enables us to satisfy them all.  For example, Keystone can take on projects requiring work in confined spaces and restricted zones because the Applanix technology allows increased turn angles.  This is a big advantage!" adds DiFranco.  "In addition, SmartBase allows us to perform work where we have no base stations.  For example, we did significant work in Haiti immediately after the tragic earthquake they experienced - we could not have done that without Applanix technology."

Exceptional Customer Support
The superior customer support offered by Applanix was another factor in Keystone's decision to partner with Applanix.  Applanix supports not just their specific technology, but the entire solution for the missions they must fly.  Said DiFranco, "They work with us on individual applications and make sure we succeed in the project we are doing."

To learn more about Keystone Aerial Surveys, visit

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