Autonomous Aircraft Will Monitor Railways

30 October 2015

The first “commercial beyond visual line of sight operation with an unmanned aerial system (UAS)” has just taken place. The event marks a new series of efforts to enhance railway safety and infrastructure inspection.

Insitu and BNSF officials launch ScanEagle for the historic first flight.Insitu and BNSF officials launch ScanEagle for the historic first flight.

Insitu, a provider of information for superior decision making, developed the unmanned aircraft that was launched from a tower site in New Mexico as part of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA’s) Pathfinder program, an initiative to develop UAS regulations.

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," says 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," says 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 our railroad while helping to keep our people safe in harsh and extreme conditions."

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