I recently bought a bloody great big ex-military thermal imager via an MoD disposal auction - it came from a dealer who knew absolutely nothing about it, and with no technical information whatsoever. Here are some photos - yes, those really are pound coins!
From the rear:
Having spent about three weeks sorting out the various connectors and identifying the output signals, etc. I took it out for its maiden voyage last night. Up until then, I'd only had a quick look through it along the side of the house.
After it got dark, I drove over to my chosen permission, through the farmyard, and then up the narrow track to the top of the hill beyond. The idea being that it would give me a chance to see how it worked over a wide landscape. Once parked up, I got my rifle, sticks, mini-thermal and NV mono sorted just in case a fox appeared. Before unloading everything, I had a quick peek into the nearest field - only to see a large Charlie nosing about some 100 yards or so out.
I quickly snuck back to the truck and grabbed the rifle together with the sticks, racked a round, and turned the NV riflescope and laser on. I was mortified to discover that the laser was almost completely obscured by dried-out rain drops from the night before. As I was meant to be experimenting with the thermal, I simply hadn't had a chance to give it a clean. I tried waggling it to one side, and this gave me a better view, but to cut a long story short, I fired and missed. The fox ran straight towards me, and because it was so close-in, my follow-up shot also missed. How crap did I feel at that point...
Anyway - disappointment aside, I set to with unloading the very inappropriately-named 'Thermal Lite'. The bloody thing weighs 6.5kg without the tripod, battery or external viewing screen...
I'd rigged the system so that the thermal was mounted on a huge video tripod via a QD attachment. I'd also bought an in-car DVD viewing screen and linked it up so that it was driven by the thermal's output signal. Both the screen and the unit itself were driven off a 12v lead acid motorcycle battery.
Once I was happy that all the requisite leads were connected properly, I gave it all a final once-over and powered it up. The thermal makes a slight whirring noise as it starts, and then takes a couple of minutes to warm up fully. I therefore took the opportunity to see what was about with the NV mono. The night was bitterly cold, with a clear sky above and a slight breeze. The conditions were rather harsh, so I wasn't surprised that there didn't appear to be much about - in fact, I couldn't see any sign of life anywhere.
A slight change in the whirring sound told me that the thermal was ready to go into action, so I switched it into full-scanning mode. Although the unit has its own small viewing module, the DVD screen gives you a far better picture, so that is what I used. I spent the next ten minutes or so ooh-ing and aah-ing as I swept it back and forth across the valley before me.
The optics on the system are awesome, with the output being somewhat akin to looking at the screen on a black and white television. There is a little shakiness, with the lines being quite evident, but other than that the image is stunning. I almost fell over when I hit what I believed was the zoom button, and a farm building some mile or so away suddenly tripled in size. I was a bit miffed that there were no animals in sight though - I wanted to see how well the system coped with the heat signature of a living creature. It was particularly frustrating as the farm is normally jam-packed with livestock, but due to the sodden ground, more or less everything was now sheltering in the various barns and sheds.
A couple of minutes later, however, a white object suddenly ran across a field about 400 yards out. A quick press of the zoom button and I was looking at a fox running flat-out towards the valley below. With a couple of dabs on the focus-adjust buttons I had a crystal clear image. Fantastic! But now was not the time to be watching tele - there was work to do, for this was almost certainly the same fox that I'd missed earlier.
I had the rifle on the sticks in moments, but could no longer see the fox. A quick blast with the Best Fox Call mouth-caller - there was no time to set the Foxpro out, and a set of eyes revealed themselves to me. It then turned and ran towards the hedge that stood between us, some two hundred yards out.
No matter what I tried, however, it wouldn't come any closer. Whether it could see the shiny legs of the tripod under the thermal (I'd not had time to spray them), or whether it was spooked by the IR from my laser, I don't know. Anyway - after about five minutes of it ducking and diving about, it suddenly decided that all was not well, and turned to go. It ran diagonally down the field about fifty yards, and then paused briefly to look over its shoulder, before running another twenty or so steps. I got myself ready, and when it paused again, I sent a Blitzking on its way. There was a dull 'doomph', and it simply fell over. Result!
I counted out 255 paces to the carcass, which had been hit perfectly - right in the engine room. My previous best off sticks was a hit at 250 paces, so when I'd missed earlier there had clearly been nothing wrong with either the rifle or the ammo. It proved to be a large dog fox with both the upper and lower canines missing from the left side of its mouth. It obviously had some age - and, I would venture to suggest, could well have been one of the area's problem foxes. I could see that it was certainly a candidate lamb and poultry killer.
So, all in all, it was a good night - the thermal had worked beautifully. Not only this, but it had also helped me find and eliminate a large dog fox at a good range. The next stage is to find a way to record the thermal's output in the field. I've managed to get the signal onto a laptop, but that just isn't suitable for use out in the wilds. Watch this space - with luck I'll be able to post some actual footage before too long!