Wings over Armenia: Use of a Paramotor for Archaeological Aerial Survey

Article excerpt

Origins and problems

In May 2000, Professor Hayk Hakobyan of the Institute of Archaeology in Yerevan contacted the Aerial Archaeology Research Group ( asking for help to establish aerial survey in Armenia. After locating Armenia (Figure 1), the response of RP was to ask if he could visit and see the problems for himself and this was done the following Autumn (Hakobyan & Palmer 2002). The main problem regarding aerial survey, succinctly stated by a student at the University of Idzevan, is that in Armenia there are no aircraft (other than military-owned) and civilian light-aviation is prohibited. During visits after 2000 we were offered flights by the military, using a helicopter, an Antonov biplane or a microlight; but for a variety of reasons these never materialised. Another problem, noted during that first visit, was the apparent unavailability of maps (for security reasons) of scales more detailed than 1:100 000 and even these were not easy to obtain. Armenian archaeologists have to date focused on the excavation of single sites and the concept of landscape archaeology, or of relating an excavated site to its surroundings, is in its formative stages in their research. Vertical photographs exist, at scales of 1:8000 and 1:35 000, which could be used as the basis for aerial survey, but they are not yet routinely available.


Armenia has a Board of Historical and Arts Monuments Conservation responsible for the National Record of Sites. The record is organised by local authority and provides names and descriptions for each site, together with a summary of dating evidence. However, the sites sometimes have imprecise locations, given in terms such as '3km NW of the village'. Through aerial survey and field visits our project was set to enhance this record by checking and providing more exact locations for existing sites as well as identifying new ones.


A first step was to buy declassified CORONA satellite negatives and to make photographic prints of a 20 x 20km test area. More than 200 sites with archaeological potential were identified and located for ground checking (Palmer 2002). A second step, suggested by Vardan Hovhannisyan, a film-maker associated with the project, was to obtain a paramotor and so avoid reliance on military aircraft and permission. At a cost of about $6000 this was beyond reach of the project, especially as the grant-giving bodies were reluctant to buy equipment. But by chance Vardan was asked to film a British dance company who were touring the Caucasus region, on a British Council-sponsored event. The British Council was so pleased with that film that they asked Vardan what he wanted to do next. 'Buy me a paramotor and let me do aerial archaeology' was his reply. And so, due in great part to the vision and enthusiasm of Roger Budd, the newly-appointed director of the British Council in Armenia, the project got its paramotor. When Chris Musson visited Armenia in 2002 he poetically named our project 'Wings over Armenia', combining our means of flight with the location.

A paramotor is a motorised parawing (Figure 2). The wing, a superbly efficient lifting aerofoil, is similar to that used by hang-gliding enthusiasts who fly from hills or jump off cliffs and the motor is a 28hp two-stroke that drives the propeller. The power unit is strapped to the back of the pilot, also providing a seat, and the wing is clipped to the power assembly. These components, plus a can of fuel and warm clothes for flying, can be fitted into the back seat of a car and transported to a reasonably flat field. At the field the power unit and wing are clipped together and arranged for takeoff into the wind and, after an engine check, the power unit is strapped to the pilot. Control cables link the wing with the pilot's hands and one handgrip includes the throttle. With the motor running, the flying cables are tugged to lift the wing to its flying position and after a few running steps takeoff is achieved. …