Ameren Corp., Black & Veatch and Collins Aerospace conduct BVLOS UAS flight to inspect transmission lines

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On Nov. 8, electric services company Ameren Corp., along with Black & Veatch and Collins Aerospace, conducted a non-stop, 60-mile beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) UAS flight to inspect Ameren’s transmission lines.

With thousands of miles of high-voltage lines, Ameren wanted a “better and safer” way to monitor its assets spread over rural territories beyond manual or helicopter inspections.

The companies say that the successful BVLOS flight showed the promise that UAS could have when it comes to conducting more efficient monitoring of expansive utility assets, especially in remote rural stretches.

“At Ameren, innovation is at the core of all we do, and the solutions we incorporate today, such as Beyond Visual Line of Sight drones, will enable us to continue to deliver safe, reliable and affordable energy to our customers tomorrow and for generations to come,” says James Pierce, BVLOS program manager and lead of Ameren’s Central UAS Department.

“We are pleased with the outcome of this 60-mile flight, which demonstrates our commitment to identifying advancements in drone technology to increase reliability and customer satisfaction. Ultimately, the successful deployment of BVLOS drones could revolutionize how Ameren assesses and evaluates the condition of our systems.”

Last year, a BVLOS UAS was used to inspect nearly 10 miles of Ameren’s power lines near Newton, Illinois. A special use vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAS was used for this recent November flight, and went six times the distance of last year’s flight.

The November flight was the second and final phase of the pilotless project by the three companies. The flight was made possible thanks to Black & Veatch and Collins Aerospace obtaining an FAA waiver to conduct this operation.

“This project is a further confirmation that unmanned aerial vehicles can move utilities beyond reactive maintenance by quickly and safely acquiring condition and performance data about their assets, which will lead to improved operations and longer asset life,” explains Jamare Bates, an FAA-certified remote UAS pilot who heads UAS operations at Black & Veatch.

“We can speed inspection time, reduce inspection costs and accelerate the integration of analyzed data into a client’s enterprise asset management (EAM) system, for improved decision making.”

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