By Robert W. Moorman
Vertiflite March/April 2023
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The subject of the Gantry’s future was preceded by Vertiflite’s interest in the use of UAS, not personnel, to inspect various-sized structures.
In the past, performing a structural inspection of the Gantry was an expensive and dangerous operation. Climbing gear-equipped crews had to maneuver around the bulky structure, taking photographs and then writing work orders on needed maintenance. Using a UAS to inspect the Gantry and large-scale wind tunnels is far safer and cost-effective.
The inspection of the Gantry, planned more than a year ago, was not to determine the present fitness of the aging structure, but to evaluate the drone’s inspection effectiveness, according to NASA.
For the Gantry inspection, Langley partnered with Redwood City, California-based Skydio. This was the first formal partnership between Langley and a drone manufacturer and likely opens the door for future partnerships.
Langley flew the 2.4-lb (1.1-kg) Skydio X2D for the Gantry inspection. The aircraft posts a maximum speed with no wind of 23 mph (37 km/h), up to 35 minutes of flight time, and a service ceiling of 12,000 ft (3,650 m). Maximum range for the X2D is 6.2 miles (10 km). It is powered by Skydio Autonomy Enterprise, an AI-driven flight engine. The X2D has a rugged, foldable airframe, GPS-based night flight capability, strobe lights and an infrared camera.
The X2D is equipped with a Sony IMX577 camera capable of shooting 12MP photos or 4K (video resolution of 4,000 pixels) high-definition footage up to 60 frames per second, with the ability to shoot in slow motion.
About the Author
Robert W. Moorman is a freelance writer specializing in various facets of the fixed-wing and rotary-wing air transportation business. With more than 30 years of experience, his writing clients include several of the leading aviation magazines targeting the civil and military markets. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.