Ensuring electrical power line safety is an enormous task. Over time mechanical components supporting high voltage lines fatigue, and electrical isolators crack and break down. To prevent the dangerous situation of downed power lines and electrified towers, frequent inspection is undertaken. Currently manned helicopters are used for inspection purposes, which is both expensive, and hazardous work for the pilot and onboard inspection crews. The Aeryon Scout removes the human element from this dangerous environment – allowing operators to get detailed images of this equipment at a safe distance, and at a fraction of the cost.

Mission Description

The primary mission objective was to capture clear and detailed images of structural components that secure power cables, as well as the insulator components that electrically separate the power lines from the transmission towers. The operation provided real-time video for live inspection and detailed imagery for post analysis.

Use Details

The Aeryon Scout removes the human element from potentially hazardous environments such as high power electrical lines – allowing inspection staff to get detailed images of this equipment at a safe distance, and at a fraction of the cost compared to helicopters or manual inspection.

When performing a tower inspection using the Scout, the first step is achieving a position adjacent to the components of interest.  This can be quickly achieved by positioning the Scout beside the tower and immediately below the desired final position, and taking off to climb to the desired height.  The vehicle will automatically maintain a position hold while the operator points the camera at each component of interest. Clicking on the component of interest in the video stream sends a high resolution ZoomSnap™ image to be sent to the operator’s screen for immediate evaluation.   Critically, in contrast to joystick operated smalll UAVs, the Aeryon Scout’s map-based point-and-click navigation system allows the operator to focus on the inspection, rather than flying.  Moreover, existing inspection staff can operate the Scout with only limited training, which gives subject matter experts direct control of the inspection.

Several angles can be imaged if it appears the component wear is advanced. The Scout has an extremely easy and precise camera pointing interface which allows accurate framing of the components detailed in each shot. Each image also includes georeferencing metadata allowing the location of the photo to be precisely determined at a later date.  The process is repeated for each area to be inspected on one side of the tower. To repeat the inspection, the Sout can either be launched from the ground on the other side of the tower or flown over the tower – likewise multiple towers can be inspected in a single flight.  At each inspection point the operator can place a point of interest marker to make returning to the location easier.

Some sample images from the inspection are below.

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Mission Complexities

  • Physical obstacles – successfully navigated high voltage power lines and equipment
  • Interference – able to fly in close proximity to high power electric fields
  • Windy conditions – stable flight a necessity to safely fly in a confined space and retrieve fine detail imagery of specific components

By Gary Mortimer

Founder and Editor of sUAS News | Gary Mortimer has been a commercial balloon pilot for 25 years and also flies full-size helicopters. Prior to that, he made tea and coffee in air traffic control towers across the UK as a member of the Royal Air Force.