Mapping Australia from the sky

Published on CPOB Anthony Martin (author and photographer)

Topic(s): Hydrography, Meteorology and Oceanography, Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS)

The Navy's Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS) Flight located in Cairns, Queensland. (photo: CPOB Tony Martin)
The Navy's Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS) Flight located in Cairns, Queensland.

For 25 years a Navy fixed-wing unit has been a quiet achiever contributing to the maintenance of nautical charts and safe navigation in Australian coastal and territorial waters.

The Cairns-based Navy Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS) Flight is a system developed in Australia that uses a scanning laser mounted in a modified Dash 8 aircraft to collect hydrographic survey data and depth information.

The aircraft can survey more than 40 square kilometres per hour, and reach depths of up to 80 metres in ideal conditions.

The Flight's Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Mark Matthews, said the Royal Australian Navy was responsible for charting approximately one-eighth of the world’s surface.

“The LADS system contributes to Australia’s capability by collecting data that is used to update nautical charts used by all civilian and military vessels,” Lieutenant Commander Matthews said.

“The data captured by our team ensures safer navigation and greater environmental protection by reducing the risk of a marine accident.”

The Flight is based at Cairns Airport in Far North Queensland, however, the entire unit can be deployed remotely for up to 30 weeks a year with personnel on a rotational basis.

Deployments have recently included surveys in South Australia and northern Tasmania.

The LADS survey team consists of eight Royal Australian Navy hydrographic specialists: two officers, three senior sailors and three junior sailors.

Specialist support is provided under contract by Fugro LADS Corporation and Cobham Aviation Services including pilots, aircraft engineers, systems technicians and a field manager.

Together, the Navy and civilian personnel form a highly specialised team ensuring the Navy remains at the forefront of surveying capability.

Along with six survey vessels, the LADS Flight is a key component of Navy’s hydrographic capability.

This capability ensures Navy continues to protect all Australians through supporting safe navigation and quality nautical chart management.

More information on the Flight is available at: