Insitu, a developer of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), has announced that it has accomplished the first commercial beyond visual line of sight operation with an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) in the contiguous 48 states. The event took place at a tower site near Vaughn, New Mexico, and marked the beginning of a week-long series of flights with BNSF Railway, designed to show how unmanned aircraft technology can be a powerful force multiplier in the effort to further enhance railway safety and infrastructure inspection.
The flight was part of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Pathfinder program, an initiative to develop UAS regulations in collaboration with industry. In its first day of operations, ScanEagle provided real-time video covering 64 miles of the 132-mile stretch of track BNSF has designated for the exercise. ScanEagle is capable of flying for up to 24 hours at speeds of up to 80 knots.
“We are honored 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,” said Insitu President and CEO Ryan M. Hartman. “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.”
“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 program,” said Greg Fox, executive vice president for operations at BNSF Railway. “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 program and the safety of the our railroad while helping to keep our people safe in harsh and extreme conditions.”