Fly Dane

Fly Dane is a regional partnership that allows local agencies to pool their resources for periodic updates of orthophotography, elevation, and planimetric data.

Dane County participated in a federal GIS demonstration project (OrthoFinder) with the Wisconsin State Cartographer's Office, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources, the City of Madison, and Ayres Associates. The project investigated issues related to the discovery, access and use of digital orthophotography acquired by different agencies, at different times, over the same geography. Dane County was selected because of its 15-year history of orthophotography projects. The Fly Dane 2000 project was reviewed as a case study for others who want to learn about digital ortho acquisition, project planning, institutional and policy issues, and partnership and collaboration opportunities. To learn more about the OrthoFinder tool or project, please visit the State Cartographers Office.

Fly Dane 2000 Orthophotography Project

Modern technology makes it possible to produce a wide range of digital mapping products; orthoimagery is one such product that public agencies, private businesses, and others have increasingly utilized in the last decade. As digital mapping tools have developed, the landscapes being photographed and mapped have also been continually (and often rapidly) changing. This dynamic – of improving technology and changing land resources – makes it important, for users in both government and business, to routinely update digital imagery and the products created from such imagery.

It is not an easy task to create and maintain up-to-date digital orthoimagery. It is expensive, time consuming, and technically challenging to plan, acquire, and process aerial photos, create the mapping products, and manage their distribution. Public agencies or local units of government seldom have the resources to commit to such a project on their own -- nor can individual private businesses afford the large investment. The dilemma is that it's costly in terms of time and money, but it increasingly benefits many parties (in both the public and private sector). The challenge is to develop strategies to share in the investment in order to make the work possible.

There is no single right answer to how to pool resources to do orthophotography projects. They vary in their broad scope and their myriad details -- and the technology is so new that a common project "framework" has not yet emerged. Valuable experience has been acquired in recent years, however, as Wisconsin counties and other local units of government have created a number of consortiums to acquire and process aerial imagery. One recent project -- called "Fly Dane 2000" -- is an example of a successful partnership model that holds great promise for future work.

Why Look at Fly Dane?

Fly Dane offers a good case study of a cooperative, locally-funded orthophotography project for several reasons:

  • It has been an ambitious effort that has included an unusually large number of partners. This has been managerially (and politically) challenging, but also has helped make the project successful.
  • It is part of an ongoing effort to regularly acquire imagery and update products -- an approach that is preferable to a one-time project, because the technology and environment being mapped are continually changing and the applications for this type of data continue to emerge.
  • It illustrates some of the fiscal challenges faced by such projects, and it offers some ways to creatively deal with them.
  • It illustrates some of the complex issues related to product distribution, including distribution methods, pricing, and public availability.

Fly Dane Goals

Fly Dane 2000 was a collaborative effort among Dane County government, numerous county municipalities, and private partners to:

  • Acquire updated aerial imagery for a census-year view of the county;
  • Utilize the updated imagery and terrain data to produce more detailed and accurate mapping products than had been previously available; and
  • Establish a long-term partnership to assure that the data was regularly updated and maintained.

An equally important goal and by-product of the project was to upgrade the County's survey control network. The network was inventoried and additional horizontal and vertical control was established to enhance the network and provide an improved framework for a new terrain model and aerial photography. The data was later "bluebooked" (catalogued with the National Geodetic Survey) and used to develop a new survey data management system for the County Surveyor.

Fly Dane Participants

A total of forty-three project partners collaborated in Fly Dane 2000, including Dane County, the Regional Planning Commission and Metropolitan Planning Organization, 24 cities and villages, 15 towns, state and federal agencies, utilities, and a private business. The Dane County Land Information Office acted as the project coordinator; Fairview Industries assisted with project definition and alternatives, RFP development, and survey services; and Ayres Associates (a Madison-based photogrammetric mapping and engineering firm) was contracted to assist with partnership development and project deliverables. It is important to emphasize the collaborative nature of Fly Dane. It was not designed as a County project, but rather as a partnership meant to benefit many contributors. The large number of participants and the evolution of contracted services to cover additional local services indicates that area-wide data needs were being addressed. The Fly Dane partnership is open and ongoing with new partners continuing to join.

Forming a Partnership

This kind of collaboration obviously doesn't just "happen" without a great deal of effort. It requires support from local political leaders, careful project planning, organizational and managerial skills on the part of project coordinators, and an active commitment from the project partners. These organizational factors are all important because of the multi-year nature of the project, its technical complexity, and the number of parties involved.

Initially Dane County considered a single agency project that would have used the older terrain model to produce updated 1/2 meter resolution imagery. The County could afford to fund this type of project on its own, but it would not have met county needs for an improved terrain model to support FEMA floodplain mapping, a new soils survey, stormwater management, and other projects. Municipalities also needed a more accurate terrain model and imagery for utility mapping and the development of 2' contours for engineering work. The 1997 City of Madison orthophoto project had already demonstrated the value of this additional detail and accuracy at the municipal level. Neighboring municipalities were interested in improved terrain and image products but could not afford to acquire this data on their own. The partnership enabled them to get beyond budget limitations and the high cost of individual projects.

The Dane County Land Information Office and Ayres Associates began contacting potential partners early in the process. This was essential both to ensure their full commitment and participation and to enable partners to plan and budget for the project during their normal budget cycle.

Dane County and Ayres spent over a year meeting with local municipal staff and elected officials to explain the project. For each meeting, a CD was prepared with sample high resolution data, viewing software, and documents describing the project, partner options, and funding arrangements. This CD was left with the municipality to share with other staff and elected officials. Sample hard copy plots showed the difference between the 1995 1-meter imagery and the proposed 2000 1-foot and 6-inch image products. Information describing pre-flight targeting methods and materials were developed for discussions about utility mapping.

With many partners, Dane County and Ayres were able to demonstrate the value of the proposed products for projects and issues before them. One community had acquired planimetric data in the past, but had no digital copies in-house. They needed to contact the previous vendor every time they needed additional hard copy prints. This municipality was interested in acquiring 6" imagery so they could update planimetrics in the future and have it available in-house. A few months later, contract arrangements made it possible for them to develop the planimetric data as part of the Fly Dane project. Another community faced repeated flooding issues in a particular area and was interested in detailed terrain data to help with FEMA floodplain studies. Another local engineering firm that provided engineering services to several of the communities saw the value of this project for its clients. It would be faster and cheaper for communities to acquire some of the needed data throughout the Fly Dane project, leaving the engineering firm to concentrate on enhancing the partnership products and providing other engineering services.

Many communities commented that this project represented just what the County should do to help them. Individually, communities were struggling with data acquisition costs. Many were just on the verge of implementing GIS and knew they would need this data, but it is often difficult to convince elected officials to commit to an emerging need. The County's ability to step forward in a coordinating role allowed communities to overcome budget limitations and justify the investment and timing to local officials.

Municipalities were particularly interested in better data to support floodplain determinations and appeals, engineering projects, and land use planning. (New Smart Growth legislation had just been passed in Wisconsin requiring all municipalities to develop comprehensive land use plans.) As the County became more familiar with the municipal needs, arrangements were made with Ayres to expand contracted services to allow individual municipalities to develop a denser terrain model to support higher resolution imagery and the development of planimetric and 2' contour data. Partners were kept updated on the project and partnership's development though status reports, partner meetings, and a project web site.

"Selling" the project was made easier by the fact that it was structured as a true partnership -- it was voluntary, flexible in terms of meeting the partners' diverse needs and interests, and cost-effective. The "economies of scale" created by the partnership approach made it possible to greatly reduce the costs (in comparison to "go-it-alone" projects) and take advantage of those savings to create higher-quality products. Partners were also attracted to the long-term arrangements that would help assure the products would be updated and funded in future years. Partners helped establish product prices that balance data access and availability with the upfront investment needed to make the project happen.

Fly Dane Planning and Implementation

Fly Dane was not Dane County's first orthophotography project. In 1995, Dane County participated in a seven-county consortium that worked with Ayres Associates to create 1-meter resolution ortho imagery and data collections of 10-foot contours, road centerlines, and hydrologic features.

Planning for Fly Dane 2000 began in the fall of 1998. There was a general consensus that the 1995 products needed to be improved upon, so the County asked Fairview Industries to help develop a Request For Proposal (RFP) that would assure creative options and alternatives (including partnerships) in the proposal responses. It was evident from the start that Ayres understood project needs and the special arrangements and commitment a partner project would require. The firm saw the benefits of a broader partnership and believed the extra efforts would be worth their investment as well as that of the partners. As a result, Ayres outlined the following as project guidelines:

  • The County required higher resolution imagery for most of its applications.
  • Cities and Villages required much higher resolution imagery for their applications.
  • A mix of accuracies, resolutions, and products was needed.
  • Opportunities existed for a partnership approach.

Ayres then identified some specific ways to improve upon the 1995 products:

  • Create higher-resolution orthos, including 6-inch resolution in urban and urbanizing areas and 1-foot resolution for the remainder of the county.
  • Create a new terrain model, with a 2-foot vertical accuracy that would support development of four-foot contours.

In addition, the project would include these products:

  • Densification and adjustment of the survey control network
  • A survey control inventory and database
  • A digital road centerline dataset
  • A digital hydrography data set

As noted, planning for Fly Dane began in the fall of 1998. In the spring of 1999, the County selected Ayres Associates as the primary vendor. Project staff from Dane County and Ayres Associates continued project preparations through 1999 and the first few months of 2000. By January 2000, the partnerships had been established and the first partnership meetings were initiated. Geodetic and survey photo control were established in February and March and aerial photos taken in March and April 2000. Data processing, quality control, and product development followed the photo acquisition and continued through the first half of 2001. Imagery products were delivered from January through July 2001.

Working Together to Develop the Best

An important aspect of the Fly Dane project was the close working relationship between the contractor and the County on quality control for the products. Because of the huge dollar investment the project represented and because the work was accountable to so many partners, the County decided to conduct a second level of review on the deliverables. As imagery came in from Ayres, Dane County staff used an ArcView application to review the imagery for large dust spots or scratches, ghosting, and warping. An ArcView shapefile was generated noting the location and type of problem found. Ayres staff was able to quickly review the ArcView file and correct any problems with the imagery. Generally, imagery was reviewed, returned, corrected, and sent back to the County within five business days and caused no delay to the project schedule. The terrain data was also reviewed as part of the County's in-house development of the countywide 4' contours. Data was checked and compared to other field engineering records. Where problems were found, Ayres quickly corrected the underlying terrain data and contour development continued.

The review process was beneficial to all parties, provided additional quality assurance, and automated processes in a manner that was fast, efficient, and allowed consistency between staff conducting the review.


Fly Dane 2000 produced the following products for its partnership. Partners have countywide access to all project deliverables; non-partners may purchase the products through the Dane County Land Information Office's normal data distribution services.

  • 1' resolution imagery for the entire county ($200/quad section [4 sq. miles] tile)
  • 6" resolution imagery in urban and urbanizing areas ($200/section [1 sq. mile] tile)
  • 4-foot contours for the entire county ($200/quad-section [4 square miles] tile)
  • A countywide Digital Elevation Model with a 2' vertical accuracy and 10-foot grid spacing ($600/quad-section [4 sq. miles] tile)

Municipal partners may also elect to produce additional products from the data (such as 2' contours or planimetrics.) In addition to these products, other benefits include densification and adjustments to the survey control network, the development of a survey control inventory and database, and new digital hydrography and road centerline data sets.

Fly Dane imagery has been re-sampled to meet federal (NDOP) specifications (1-meter resolution) and made available in the public domain through the U.S. Geological Survey Innovative Partnership program. The same 1-meter resolution imagery has been made available in the OrbView Cities imagery distribution program. Dane County will receive a portion of the revenue from each imagery sale via Orbimage's online catalog.

All proceeds from data sales are deposited into the Fly Dane Reserve Fund and will be used for future data updates.


Producing high-resolution aerial imagery is expensive. It was important for the success of Fly Dane 2000 that project costs be shared as widely and equitably as possible. A long list of project partners helped to fund the acquisition and processing of the aerial imagery.

Expenditures for Fly Dane 2000 totaled about $1.1 million. Partners contributed to the project as shown below:

Expenditures for Fly Dane 2000

In addition, because Fly Dane was formed to acquire and routinely update aerial imagery, it was important to create a funding mechanism to help offset future costs. For this reason, a Fly Dane Reserve Fund was established in 2000, which consisted of a segregated fund to hold proceeds of sales of Fly Dane data products. This fund will be used for support and maintenance of current products and to periodically acquire updated countywide imagery.

It's important to emphasize the economies of scale that were realized by the partnership approach. Ayres Associates, which has performed many orthophotography projects for both individual governments and consortiums, has estimated that the resulting products cost each partner about 50% less than they would with "go-it-alone" projects. If more governments, agencies, and businesses that benefit from this work are persuaded to become contributing partners, per-partner costs can be further reduced -- and perhaps more products can be offered.

Much of this work is an investment that is not only repaid by the substantial benefits it produces, but also by the decreased costs of acquiring and processing imagery in the future. For example, using the more detailed Digital Terrain Model created by Fly Dane 2000 will result in significant savings when imagery is re-acquired, currently scheduled for 2005. So, money that is well-spent now can result in future savings.

Applications of Fly Dane 2000 Products

Orthoimagery and the terrain model created for the imagery are useful for a variety of applications, some of which are categorized below. For more discussion about orthophoto uses and applications, go to the State Cartographers Office website. Products from the project are being used as base image maps to display the following information:

  • General land use planning
  • Public information products
  • Census geography
  • Geometric feature representation to +/- 10 feet (hydrographic and road centerlines)
  • Development of modernized soil surveys
  • Utility mapping
  • Preliminary engineering studies (at the municipal level)

Products from the project are being used as source maps for the following projects:

  • FEMA floodplain/floodzone delineation and floodplain/floodzone mapping
  • Wetland identification
  • Slope determination
  • Stormwater planning
  • Countywide land use inventory
  • Environmental corridor and open space corridor delineation
  • Site planning

Fly Dane Summary and Conclusion

In the introduction, we spoke of the benefits of regularly acquiring orthoimagery. But we also described the barriers to doing so, particularly those faced by local units of government -- including the expense, the technical complexities, and the political and managerial demands. One way to overcome these difficulties is to form partnerships that share the work, the costs, and the benefits of orthoimagery projects.

Partnerships are especially attractive for financially-strapped local governments -- at a time when obtaining federal and state assistance is increasingly problematic. Various public "consortiums" have been formed to do orthoimagery projects in Wisconsin. Fly Dane 2000 is a notable and successful recent example.

A number of conclusions and lessons can be drawn from Fly Dane 2000:

  1. Fly Dane 2000 was a partnership in fact -- not just "on paper". Partner participation was actively encouraged in all phases of the project. All partners benefit from the work; to maximize those benefits, it's important that they participate in planning and implementation.
  2. There were many project partners. Having many "stakeholders" helped to spread the cost among the many local governments and agencies that will benefit from the project.
  3. While the active involvement of (and contributions from) the partners was critical, a project's success also depends upon skilled, committed, and sustained leadership -- which in this case was provided by the Dane County Land Information Office. This was not a short-term commitment; planning began in 1998, the products were delivered in 2001, and follow-up work continues to this day.
  4. The selection of a vendor (or vendors) is obviously also crucial to a project's success. In the case of Fly Dane, Fairview Industries and Ayres Associates provided the required technical and project management skills in all phases -- from initial planning to product delivery.
  5. Fly Dane 2000 partners envision the project as being part of a long-term strategy to regularly update orthoimagery and associated products. Additional partners continue to come in and it is hoped that more partners will join as the project's benefits become increasingly apparent. The County hopes that eventually all Dane County communities and many other local entities will be involved.
  6. An important part of making Fly Dane 2000 an immediate and ongoing success is the development of funding mechanisms to pay for current work and invest in future work. It's important to understand that the segregated fund established for Fly Dane 2000 revenues is not simply there to pay for past and current work. Rather, the project partners hope that a portion of proceeds from contributions and product sales will be viewed as an investment in ongoing updates.

The following organizations are members of the Fly Dane partnership,. The partnership works together to periodically acquire and update countywide aerial imagery and related products. If you are interested in being a Fly Dane partner contact Fred Iausly.

    • Department of Transportation/SW District
    • UW Police Department

    • Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District
    • American Transmission Company

    • Land Information Office

    • Blooming Grove
    • Burke
    • Cottage Grove
    • Dunn
    • Madison
    • Middleton
    • Rutland
    • Springdale
    • Verona
    • Vienna
    • Westport

    • Edgerton
    • Fitchburg
    • Middleton
    • Monona
    • Stoughton
    • Sun Prairie
    • Verona

    • Belleville
    • Black Earth
    • Blue Mounds
    • Brooklyn
    • Cambridge
    • Cottage Grove
    • Cross Plains
    • Deerfield
    • DeForest
    • Maple Bluff
    • Marshall
    • Mazomanie
    • McFarland
    • Mount Horeb
    • Oregon
    • Shorewood Hills
    • Waunakee
    • Windsor

Location and agendas for partner meetings

  • Location: City of Fitchburg - City Hall

    Meeting Agenda:

    • Fly Dane Reserve Fund Report
    • Fly Dane 2017 Project
      • 6" color imagery Countywide
      • 3" color imagery buy-up
      • 2' contours, LiDAR Update
      • 1' contours, LiDAR Partner buy-up
    • Fly Dane 2017 Funding
      • LIO Budger
      • Fly Dane Reserve Fund
      • Fly Dane Partners
      • Pursue grant funding
    • Other Partner Needs?
    • Future of fly Dane Partnership
      • Partnership will change with new state and federal requirements and funding
    • Discussion/Question

  • Location: Dane County - Land & Water Resources Department

    Meeting Agenda:

    • Fly Dane Reserve Fund Report
    • Local, Regional & State Projects
      • 2013 - City of Middleton, Pictometry oblique imagery
      • 2013 - City of Madison, Pictometry oblique imagery
      • 2015 - WROC
    • Next Fly Dane Project
      • Change to 3-year cycle
      • Next flight in 2014
      • 1'/6" color imagery
    • Partner Needs?
      • Requesting feedback on partner needs
    • Conclusion
      • Develop project scope and work plan
      • Develop RFP

  • Location: Dane County - Land & Water Resources Department

    Meeting Agenda:

    • Annual Report
    • Fly Dane 2009/2010 project proposal
      • LiDAR Terrain
      • 1'/6" color imagery
      • 1'/6" b/w imagery
      • Feedback
    • Flyd Dane 2009/2010 pricing model
    • Other Regional & State Projects
      • Wisconsin Regional Orthophotography Consortium
      • Wisconsin Emergency Management Ortho-imagery Grant
      • USGS 133 Cities

  • Location: Ayres Associates

    Meeting Agenda:

    • Fly Dane 2005 Recap
    • Annual Report
    • What’s Next
      • Building Footprint data model
      • Next Fly Dane project?
    • National Trends & Initiatives
      • Ted Koch - Wisconsin Geographic Information Officer
      • Dave Mockert - Wisconisn Geographic Information Officer
    • Industry Trends / New Technologies
      • Kirk Contrucci
    • Other things
      • NIMA/133 Cities Program
      • Southwest Wisconsin Orthophotography Consortium
      • Feedback

  • Location: Ayres Associates

    Meeting Agenda:

    • Annual Report
    • Fly Dane 2005
      • Project Status
      • Project Timeline
    • What's Next?
    • Technical update and tour
      • See how the Fly Dane projects are being processed

  • Location: Dane County - Land Conservation Department

    Meeting Agenda:

    • Partner Report
    • General thoughts for 2005 project
      • Does pricing/distribution work for partners
    • Show products for 2005
      • Terrain updates
      • 1'/6" color imagery
      • 1'/6" b/w imagery
      • Building footprints
      • Feedback
    • Partnership Model
      • Reserve Fund
      • Proposal - Feedback
      • Partners
      • Old partners
      • New partners
    • Other things
      • NIMA/133 Cities Program
      • Southwest Wisconsin Orthophotography Consortium
      • Feedback

  • Location: City of Fitchburg - City Hall

    Meeting Agenda:

    • Annual Report
      • Status of the project, partnership and Fly Dane reserve fund
    • Fee Waivers
      • Partner input on a potential fee waiver policy for Fly Dane data products and pricing
    • Additional municipal product development
    • Preliminary plans for the 2005 Fly Dane project
    • Mid-cycle Imagery Update
      • Partner feedback regarding a possible 2003 flight to update imagery in high growth areas (proposed by the City of Madison)
    • Demonstration from the City of Fitchburg
      • See how GIS and the Fly Dane products are used every day at the City of Fitchburg

  • Location: Office of Ayres Associates, Inc.

    Meeting Agenda:

    • Tour and GIS Day Map Gallery
      • (How Dane County departments and communities are using Fly Dane products)
    • Business Meeting
      • Project overview & status of remaining deliverables
      • Ongoing partnership oppotunities
    • Thank you for supporting Fly Dane!
      • Speakers included:
      • Jim Arts, Dane County Executive's Office
      • Mike Blaska, Dane County Supervisor & WI Land Information Program
      • Sia Kusha, Exec. Vice President, Ayres Associates
      • Presentation of Commemorative Posters
    • Facility Tour and GIS Day Map Gallery
      • (How Dane County departments and communities are using Fly Dane products)

  • Location: Office of Ayres Associates, Inc.

    Meeting Agenda:

    • Project Status and Quality Assurances procedures
    • Additional work products available to partners
      • Development of 2-foot contours and planimetrics
    • Data delivery schedule
    • Retained revenue account and product pricing
    • Took partner input on data pricing
    • Tour of Ayres facility

  • Location: Office of Ayres Associates, Inc.

    Meeting Agenda:

    • Tour of Ayres facility
    • Project overview presentation
      • Orthophotography development
      • What is orthophotography
      • Digital terrain model
      • Contours
      • Utility marking
      • Project timeline
      • Partner agreements
    • Discussion forum
      • Identify priority deliverables
      • Questions

The importance of robust quality assurance and quality control for orthophotography and related deliverables cannot be overstated. An important aspect of the Fly Dane project is the close working relationship between the contractor and the County on quality control. Because of the huge dollar investment the project represents and because the work is accountable to so many partners, the County conducts a second level of review on the project deliverables.

As imagery comes in from the contractor, Dane County staff, using an ArcView application, reviews the imagery for large dust spots or scratches, ghosting, and warping. An ArcView Shapefile is generated noting the location and type of problem found. This process allows the contractors staff to quickly review the Shapefile and correct any problems with the imagery. Generally, imagery is reviewed, returned, correct4ed, and sent back to the County within five business days, causing no delay to the project schedule.

In 2000, the terrain data was also reviewed as part of the County's in-house development of the countywide 4' contours. Data was checked and compared to other county field engineering records. Where problems were found, the contractor correcte4d the underlying terrain data.

The review process is beneficial to all parties, provided additional quality assurance and automated processes that assure fast, efficient, and consistent review. For fly Dane 2005, the County will migrate the Ortho QA/QC Tool to the ArcGIS platform. For more information about the QA/QC process or automated tools used in the process, contact Fred Iausly.

This information is intended for Fly Dane Partners who are acquiring 6-inch resolution imagery and are interested in pre-marking utilities and other landscape features. For the Fly Dane 2014 Project, all the communities will need to complete the utility marking before the project is flown, (est. March 25, 2014).


Pre-Marking Utilities
6" GSD Aerial Photography
Suggested target designs and dimensions

Drop Inlet
Size: 4'x4'
Sanitary Manhole
Size: 4'x5'
Storm Manhole
Size: 5'x5'
Fire Hydrant
Size: 4'x4'
Valve Boxes
Size: 4'x4'

* Use a 9" paint roller and low gloss traffic paint

Off-Pavement Paneling Information

Targeting materials may be acquired from the following business:

Pricing is accurate as of 2/2/2104

Targeting Material

Reef Industries

9209 Almeda Genoa Rd
Houston, TX 77275

 P: (800) 231-6074

$160 / Roll

Roll consists of 1000 feet, 12" wide, with three-legged panels per roll

Sod Supplies

Reinders Turf Supply

4217 Nakoosa Trail
Madison, WI 53714

 P: (608) 244-0200

$34.18 / 1000

24 per three legged panel

Nails & Shiners

6060 126th Ave N
Largo, FL 33773

 P: (727) 538-0886

$40 / 250

for flat shiners (2¼" Dia.)

$31 / 260

for raised shiners (11516" Dia.)

User 30/40 penny nails

Targeting (Traffic) Paint

Sherwin Williams Paint

2030 South Stoughton Rd
Madison, WI 53716

 P: (608) 221-3772

$83 / 5-gallon

bucket of water based traffic paint

$116 / 5-gallon

bucket of solvent based traffic paint

8 to 10 three-legged panels per gallon