The authors used their experience on the design of role equipment for helicopters dedicated to over-head line [OHL] inspections, aeronautics and field operation to deploy Unmanned Aerial Vehicles [UAV], often called drones, for OHL inspections, aiming to keep the same functions and extending present capabilities whenever possible. Focus is kept on payload, systems, inspection functions, operation and mission control; the UAV design and real time control is beyond the scope. The authors also report on issues found during field trials that prove important when outlining a new inspection procedure or the transition from helicopter operation.
The paper begins with an overview of airworthiness with a focus on European regulatory framework and discussion on the possibilities of multicopters for local inspections and smaller aircraft for beyond line of sight operation. It follows with a description of UAV as a component of a system including ground control station, vectors, payloads, operators, inspection functions and how the mission and its constraints shape the design of the solution. Then, experience from field trials with fixed wing and rotary UAV is presented; this concerns mostly visual inspection; nevertheless, LiDAR and infra-red are also introduced.
The final section deals with roadmaps to introduce UAV in the inspection market, whether as substitutes or complements of other inspection methods; safety operation on UAV critical equipment and humans; wireless links, real-time control and user interfaces.