Insitu conducted a commercial beyond visual line of sight operation with its ScanEagle unmanned aerial system (UAS) on 25 October for railway safety and infrastructure inspection, the company announced on 28 October.
The company is carrying out a week-long series of flights with BNSF Railway under the US FAA’s Pathfinder programme. This programme aims to develop UAS regulations in collaboration with industry, and this was the first commercial beyond visual line of sight operation of a UAS in the continental United States.
On the first day of operations, Insitu’s ScanEagle was launched near Vaughn, New Mexico, and provided real-time video coverage of 64 miles of the 132-mile stretch of track BNSF has allocated for the exercise. ScanEagle is capable of flying for up to 24 hours at speeds of up to 80 knots.
Ryan Hartman, president and CEO, Insitu, said: ‘We are honoured to partner with BNSF and the FAA to explore how our technology can extend the capabilities of manned resources to support the safety of critical infrastructure and the people charged with inspecting those assets. Our systems have been flying globally for more than a decade, and these operations are a positive opportunity to further inform the conversation surrounding the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace.’
Greg Fox, executive vice president for operations, BNSF Railway, said: ‘Our Pathfinder project is expected to be a significant enhancement to the tremendous amount of data and information we already gather as part of our track inspection programme. The capabilities these aircraft have to gather additional intelligence that can then be fed in real-time to track inspectors on the ground will fundamentally enhance our programme and the safety of the our railroad while helping to keep our people safe in harsh and extreme conditions.’