At the Farnborough Airshow, Airbus demonstrated visual inspection the upper part of an aircraft using a drone equipped with a high-definition camera. Flown using an automatic flight control system supervised by a human pilot, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) follows a predetermined flight path and automatically takes a series of pictures. All images, especially those showing potential scratches, dents, and paint defects, are compiled in a 3D digital model, recorded in a database, and then analyzed. Data acquisition by UAV takes 10 to 15 minutes instead of 2 hours using conventional methods. Operators no longer need to go up on a telescopic handler to perform the visual inspection, and picture analysis can be done afterward in an office.

“The use of this new technology offers better working conditions including improving the safety and comfort for the quality inspectors,” says Nathalie Ducombeau, Airbus head of quality.

A full-scale industrial test is being conducted on A330 aircraft, and Airbus is working on implementation on other programs.

US Coast Guard awards UAS contract to Insitu

© Ivan Cholakov |

Insitu will provide small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) services via ScanEagle aboard one U.S. Coast Guard national security cutter. The Coast Guard procured the services through a pre-existing multiple award contract executed by Naval Air Systems Command. The initial $4.5 million task order includes operation, integration, maintenance, and spares for a contractor-owned sUAS for one year. The task order has a total potential value of $12.3 million that includes options for up to three additional years. The Coast Guard will have full ownership of the surveillance data obtained.

PG&E tests UAS to inspect electric, gas infrastructure

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) is testing small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) to enhance the safety and reliability of its electric and gas service.

The utility is conducting two separate test programs under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization to explore the feasibility of using sUAS to monitor electric infrastructure in hard-to-reach areas and to detect methane leaks across its 70,000mi2 service area.

The tests demonstrate that sUAS can fly over terrain that is often inaccessible on foot, and send back imagery showing the condition of electric lines and equipment.

“We see significant possibilities not just for employee and public safety, but for increasing reliability of our service and response time to outages,” says Pat Hogan, senior vice president, Electric Transmission and Distribution, PG&E.

PG&E is working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and other partners to test NASA’s Open Path Laser Spectrometer sensor on a sUAS. The miniature methane sensor JPL developed is 1,000x more sensitive than most commercially available technology.