British ex-rescue pilot on heroic mission to clear deadly Russian landmines from fields in Ukraine  

British ex-rescue pilot is on an heroic mission to clear deadly Russian landmines from fields in Ukraine

  • Jonathan Elwes, of the Royal Air Squadron, is helping a pioneering initiative using unmanned drones and driverless tractors to detect unexploded bombs
  • The ex helicopter search and rescue pilot is on a drive to help farmers clear thousands of fields of Russia’s mines and missiles
  • Mr Elwes, 72, of Dorset, said the technique would speed up the usual process because ‘It would take ten years to clear these fields in the usual way’

Jonathan Elwes (above), a former rescue pilot, wants to rid Ukraine fields of bombs

Jonathan Elwes (above), a former rescue pilot, wants to rid Ukraine fields of bombs

A British former rescue pilot is on a mission to clear deadly Russian landmines from Ukrainian farmland.

Jonathan Elwes, a member of the Royal Air Squadron, is helping a pioneering initiative using unmanned drones and driverless tractors to detect unexploded bombs.

Ukraine is the ‘bread basket’ of the world, but the war has all but halted wheat supplies – sending supermarket food prices soaring globally.

Now the ex helicopter search and rescue pilot is on a drive to help farmers clear thousands of fields of Russia’s mines and missiles.

Mr Elwes, 72, of Dorset, said: ‘The Russians indiscriminately planted mines in the areas they occupied, before being forced to retreat by Ukrainian forces.

Huge swathes of farmland cannot be used because they are either full of unexploded bombs, or might be – and either way, you dare not use the field.

‘It would take ten years to clear these fields in the usual way.’

Mr Elwes, who has a long association with Ukraine and many farming friends there, is trying to raise money to create a prototype mine clearing system.

Mr Elwes, of the Royal Air Squadron, is helping a pioneering initiative using unmanned drones and driverless tractors to detect unexploded bombs - and made a video of his plan

Mr Elwes, of the Royal Air Squadron, is helping a pioneering initiative using unmanned drones and driverless tractors to detect unexploded bombs – and made a video of his plan

Huge swathes of Ukraine's farmland cannot be used because they are either full of unexploded bombs, or might be – and Mr Elwes wants to clear them with his pioneering technique

Huge swathes of Ukraine’s farmland cannot be used because they are either full of unexploded bombs, or might be – and Mr Elwes wants to clear them with his pioneering technique

Mr Elwes, who has a long association with Ukraine and many farming friends there, is trying to raise money to create a prototype mine clearing system

Mr Elwes, who has a long association with Ukraine and many farming friends there, is trying to raise money to create a prototype mine clearing system

Normally, mine clearing is a laborious process involving a team of people slowly moving across a field gingerly prodding the earth ahead with a stick.

This project, called ‘safe fields for Ukraine’, involves scanning a field from above using a flying drone fitted with special sensors that can detect objects such as landmines buried in the soil.

Then one of a farmer’s ordinary tractors – converted to run on ‘auto-pilot’ – automatically drives around the field using more sensors to scan the object identified by the drone, and identify what kind of bomb it is.

Finally, a bomb disposal expert is called in to safely deactivate the landmine.

Mr Elwes said: ‘The Russians mined huge areas of farmland. It would take vast manpower to clear them. But this system is brilliant because it is quite cheap and farmers will be able to operate the kit themselves, using their existing tractors. We just need to raise money for the prototype, to help Ukrainians to help themselves.’

The £60,000 needed to finish the prototype de-mining system will be spent by a consortium called Frendt which includes the Ukrainian Vinnytsia Technical University in central Ukraine.

Mr Elwes is pictures during a visit to Chaika airfield, Kyiv on a visit with the Air Squadron

Mr Elwes is pictures during a visit to Chaika airfield, Kyiv on a visit with the Air Squadron 

Mr Elwes flew with the Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force, which was run by the RAF, before retiring. In 2013, he flew a Tiger Moth vintage aircraft to Ukraine as part of a visit by the Royal Air Squadron, which is an association of aviators whose patron was Prince Philip. Over the next few years, he travelled to the country frequently and went into partnership with local farmers to grow soya beans.

Mr Elwes said: ‘In 2013, I flew low over the whole of Ukraine and saw the extent of its stunning agricultural riches. I was bowled over by the volume and quality of production. Since then, I have personally been involved in agriculture in Ukraine and have friends who have lost their entire livelihoods.

‘My friends have come to me with this project which will help the farming community restart and rebuild. The design has been completed but now funding is required for a prototype, and they are confident of then securing ongoing funding for full production.’

For more information on the project, click here.

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