At every turn, the FAA has said operating a drone beyond line of sight is against the ‘rules.’ GPS waypoints and first person view technology are making BLOS easier every day and demonstrating all the advantages of a drone capable of flying great distances from its point of origin. But nothing lends credence to BLOS technology than a real-world, practical application.
As it turns out, there is only one company with government approval to fly their drones BLOS, Delair-Tech.
Based in Toulouse, France, Delair received BLOS certification for its DT-18 UAV from the French Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGAC) in September 2012.
It was far from easy.
“The process for BLOS certification was, as you can imagine, difficult to achieve.” Delair’s Ian Smith told DRONELIFE. “Every single part of the UAV system – from the airframe to the autopilot to our entire system of fail-safes (and in what specific scenarios each one would trigger)– was scrutinized by the DGAC. As we were the first in the world to ever receive this certification, it was not taken lightly.”
Additionally, the DGAC required Delair to equip their UAV with a “continuous, live, forward-looking video system for sense & avoid that could be perpetually monitored by the operator.”
That’s a lot of boxes to check. And, more often than not, meeting these requirements is as complex as you would imagine.
However, one exception to these complex systems is the method by which the DT-18 UAV communicates with its operator.
“Our UAVs can connect to 3G or 4G networks for data link,” Smith explained. “This means…the operator could be on the opposite side of the world, sipping coffee in an air conditioned office as the UAV performs its mission autonomously. The future really is here; you can now purchase a cellular data plan for your drone.”
At the moment, Delair’s BLOS flights are limited to France.
But Delair’s North American distributor, FlyTerra, is working on bring the tech stateside conducting test flights at the NUAIR test site in New York.
The concept of using cellular data to control a personal drone from anywhere in the world is many years away (and again, a nightmare regulation-wise) but it could prove very useful to big energy in the near future. Said Smith:
“Electric transmission lines (power lines) are part of large linear infrastructures so they need a long range aircraft in order to be anywhere close to efficient for long distance inspections. To date, I have not seen an industry benefit more from the current state of small UAV technology than this one. Our DT-18 and DT-26 UAVs fit that bill perfectly.”