by | Jul 18, 2022

Drones show promise for spotting outages, employees learn in class

Drones show great potential for reducing outage times. That was the conclusion of the 24 electric cooperative employees who attended the first-ever drone school hosted by the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives in May.

The three-day workshop, taught by Southeast Missouri State University’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Coordinator Andrew Chronister, was designed to provide the training required to earn the certification needed to fly drones commercially.

“The uses for drones in general are just mind-boggling,” says Andrew. “But the biggest one I can think of is inspection of power lines, utility poles and even substations. If there’s an insulator that’s broken, or a bad connection, and it generates heat, you can really see it well with a thermal camera and identify problems before they get out of hand.”

He envisions a day when drones are as common for lineworkers as hotsticks and rubber gloves. Deploying a drone is faster than climbing a pole or using a bucket truck to determine the cause of an outage.

He says utilities are already using drones to replace the airplanes and helicopters once used for line inspection. Drones eliminate the risk to pilots while allowing close-up inspections.

During the workshop, participants learned what drones can do. They received hands-on experience flying drones around the power lines used for lineman training classes at the association. But the main purpose was to prepare them to take the exam required by the Federal Aviation Administration to become certified as a commercial drone pilot.

“This is another tool for them in their toolbox,” Andrew says. “I don’t expect them to be able to build a drone from scratch. I don’t expect them to write policy for drone use in their companies. There’s all different levels of drone use but the remote pilot certification is the first step.”

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