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Flying the Line

Specialized drone inspects power lines for problems

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s a Drone!

While it didn’t have the powers of DC Comics’ Superman, the drone flying over some of TCEC’s power lines last week did have special capabilities, including a:

  • Standard camera to identify damaged or weak equipment
  • Infrared camera to detect hot spots on the line, also called ‘thermal inspection’

Cooperation Among Cooperatives

In the spirit of the Sixth Cooperative Principle, “Cooperation Among Cooperatives”, TCEC contracted with Central Electric Cooperative of Stillwater for the drone and its operator to inspect some power lines.

Central Electric Cooperative’s Will Clay is the drone’s operator. He was a lineman who made a hobby of robotics and flying drones before he became responsible for Central Electric Cooperative’s drone operations. He’s been flying drones for the cooperative for two-and-a-half years but has seven years of experience in the unmanned aircraft systems field. He has a remote pilot license.

Clay came loaded with equipment. He brought three drones, his primary one was the Inspire 2 and weighed six pounds depending on its attachments. To monitor the drone in air, Clay used an iPad with a hood. His pickup had an inverter and generator in it to charge the batteries for his gear.

Looking for issues

Members in the Elkhart, Kansas, and Cimarron County, Oklahoma, areas have had more outages than usual this past year. The drone with its cameras can identify problems from the air that linemen are unable to detect from the ground.

Clay flew his drone over the transmission line that feeds those areas. The line consists of ‘H’ structures that are 52 feet in the air and carry 69,000 volts. He found a few minor issues but nothing significant. Clay flies his drone 15-20 feet either above or to the side of the line. He keeps it in his line of sight per federal regulations.

“Our members want reliable service and we want to deliver it,” said Lyle Mathis, vice president of Engineering and Operations at TCEC. “Using the latest technology available helps do that.”

Clay and the TCEC Maintenance Manager Matt Taylor also took the drone to fly over parts of the City of Guymon. They were careful to keep the drone within TCEC’s right-of-way.

Superpowers? Maybe.

Flying the line will be more common for inspections in the future. The technology will be more accessible and regulations will change. One might say that drones with the power to detect heat and magnify small issues not visible to the naked eye do have superpowers.

Drone landing in snowy weather.

Coming in for a landing.

The drone hovers close to a 69-kV transmission line in the Elkhart, Kansas area.

The drone hovers near a 69-kV transmission line in the Elkhart, Kansas area.

Drone operator Will Clay of Central Electric Cooperative uses an iPad with special software as his ground station.

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