The Belgian surveying company Vansteelandt recently successfully inspected a high-voltage route of the Belgian grid operator Elia in Belgium by means of a drone. During the inspection flight a distance of no less than 100 km was covered. The inspection was carried out with the SDO 50 V2 helicopter drone from the Swiss manufacturer SwissDrones. EuroUSC and SkeyDrone took care of the application for the BVLOS flight authorisation.
Prelude to U-space
The flight was performed by Vansteelandt, specialist in 3D surveying and mapping. The necessary risk analysis for the flight authorization for the long-range BVLOS operation was provided by EuroUSC, in collaboration with SkeyDrone. During the flight, the surrounding airspace was monitored for other air traffic using sensors installed by technology partner Senhive. This air traffic was visualized via the SkeyDrone UTM system and the operator could be warned in time for possible risky situations.
According to SkeyDrone director Hendrik-Jan Van der Gucht, the BVLOS test flight is a prelude to U-space in Belgium: “With this test, we have successfully demonstrated how BVLOS flights can be performed safely in a complex environment. The next step is to evolve towards a scalable solution for the implementation of U-space in Belgium. Together with our partners, we have the ambition to further unlock the potential of drone technology in our society.”
Elia operates over 19,000 km of high-voltage lines in Belgium and Germany. The routes must be checked regularly in order to be able to guarantee the energy supply in a safe manner. These inspections can be carried out in a safe, efficient and sustainable manner by means of drones.
Sequel to French test flight
This is not the first time that a SwissDrones drone has been used for a BVLOS drone flight for the inspection of a high-voltage route. In April of this year, the company conducted an inspection flight in France as part of a powerline inspection challenge issued by the French grid operator RTE. Although no long distance was bridged, SwissDrones was the only party that succeeded in detecting a defect by means of an automated drone flight.
During the test in Belgium, a comparable automatic drone flight was performed, but over a distance of no less than 100 km, well out of the pilot’s sight (BVLOS). The flight was operated with the SDO 50 V2. This drone has a maximum flight time of 3 hours and can carry up to 45 kg of payload.
Search and rescue
At the beginning of last year, Air Zermatt AG, in collaboration with SwissDrones, performed another record flight with the same type of drone in Switzerland. During that flight, the unmanned helicopter flew in windy conditions at an altitude of no less than 11,500 feet (about 3,500 meters) with an air temperature of -10ºC. The intent of that flight was to assess the suitability of the system for search and rescue missions.
(cover photo: SkeyDrone)