US: Officials of Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, Dominion Virginia Power, and HAZON Solutions, inspection services provider for small unmanned aerial vehicles, conducted drone research flights last week to determine the need for air- or ground-based visual observers during power line inspections.
The unmanned aircraft were in constant sight of ground observers daisy-chained along a three-mile section of the Dominion Virginia Power transmission corridor. During the flights, the HAZON Solutions and Virginia Tech flight crews verified the position of the aircraft as it hovered close to power lines and towers.
Information from the two days of testing will support a safety case for power infrastructure inspections that employ unmanned aircraft “beyond visual line-of-sight” — aircraft that fly beyond visual contact of observers on the ground or in chase planes.
“Beyond visual line-of-sight operations are the key enabler to efficiently using unmanned aircraft for power line and other utility inspections,” said Mark Blanks, director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership.
“Current rules require that we either pick up and move the flight crew and observers every few miles or follow the unmanned aircraft with a manned chase plane. It doesn’t make business sense to do either. For the unmanned aircraft infrastructure inspection industry to thrive, and for public utilities and home energy consumers to benefit, we need to build a safety case that will allow flying beyond line-of-sight.”
The Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership is headquartered at the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech.