SOUTHEAST MISSOURI (KFVS) - If you live in southeast Missouri you may recently seen a plane flying at a low altitude, but there is no reason to be concerned.
The aircraft is maned by highly trained pilots who are using scientific tools to map out the buried geology around the St. Francois Mountains, and their discoveries could end up helping the local economy.
The Navaho PA31 is flying long passes north and south 300 feet above the ground covering approximately 14,000 square miles that includes numerous counties in the Heartland.
The plane is operated by Captain Yannick Belley and his co-pilot Nathaniel Walton. The two french speaking pilots were subcontracted through the Canadian company Terraquest.
Captain Belley has racked up thousands of hours of technical flying experience in many different countries, landscapes and weather conditions.
He says their safety and the safety of the communities they fly over always comes first.
“It’s quite easy for me to work here. It’s quite flat and hilly. The biggest problem that we can encounter is birds," Belley said. "We fly with the feet. We fly with the yoke and we keep our line straight. We try to focus the best that we can to get the best data we can.”
Anne McCafferty, a research geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver, is leading the research effort.
She says its the largest magnetic and radiometric survey that the USGS has flown in its history of collecting magnetic survey data.
“I think Missouri has got it going on geologically,” McCafferty said. “This survey will augment two recent USGS geophysical surveys that were flown in 2014 and 2016. The more we survey and the larger the surveys get, the more we unearth and reveal the geology underneath.”
The twin-engine plane has been augmented with magnetometers on each wing and its tail stinger.
McCafferty says the devices detect magnetic waves and that information is used to create 3D geology maps of iron deposits, which could have other precious metals in them like gold, copper, cobalt.
“Its revolutionized the way we are looking at mineral deposits and in general the way that we are mapping geologic framework," McCafferty said. "We are learning so much about the geometry of faults and the geometries of the rocks that host these mineral deposits. Its been leaps and bounds of new knowledge.”
Captian Yannick Belley is one of the highly trained pilots flying the aircraft at 300 feet, which allows them to get more accurate readings.
Belley thinks the data they are collecting could inspire new investment and create employment opportunities in the area.
“We see hot spots in the area and we know that it could be very good for the economy in the future," Belley said. "Sometimes we were thinking maybe a mine is going to open here, maybe thousands of people are going to have a job in the next years. It’s cool. I’m very proud to be part of this.”
This research effort will also shed new light on seismically active areas around the New Madrid Fault and the Sainte Genevieve fault line.
Belley says they have a few more weeks of flying left. All the data from this USGS taxpayer funded survey will be publicly available this Summer.