Opportunities are all around us and when the right place aligns with the right time, opportunities can be created and seized. This is exactly what happened for me this June and I couldn’t have done it without Central Colorado UAS.
In my second month as an official member of CCUAS, I received an email from our President, Taylor Albrecht. He was sharing about an opportunity from one of the club’s many partners and connections. This opportunity was to work with Juniper Unmanned, a commercial drone company in Denver, as a visual observer. We were to be inspecting distribution lines in southern California with drones in order to quickly eliminate potential fire risks. As a developing drone pilot seeking knowledge and experience this was just the kind of opportunity I was seeking. I quickly responded and reached out to the company. Just a few days later, I found myself packing for a month-long gig in California.
Operation was in full throttle when I arrived, there were thousands of poles to be inspected and only a month left. With the unique group of individuals that would become my coworkers, with backgrounds in geology, music, baseball and so much more, we would inspect them all. Each day after a 6:00am safety meeting and team briefing, we broke into pairs (1 drone pilot and 1 visual observer) and headed out to start inspecting and collecting data.
Drone pilot and visual observer (VO) teamwork was crucial for success every day. At each area of inspection, it was both the VO and the pilots responsibility to have acute awareness of the surroundings. Sites ranged from newly built neighborhoods to desolate fields, each bringing different challenges. Densely populated areas meant more people management and awareness, where open fields brought more attention to terrain and wildlife. The drone pilot would typically be stationary near the truck and the VO would, as the name ensues, maintain a visual line of sight (VLOS) on the drone, per 14 CFR § 107.33. Upon take off, the drone pilot would navigate the drone to the first pole, capture a set of 6 images, looking for any immediate threats to safety (i.e leaking transformer, cracked poles or broken conductors) then fly to the next power line and repeat. Communicating with one another clearly and quickly about any hazards or concerns, providing clear flying directions via radio to the pilot as needed, and making sure the drone pilot was staying true to the flight plan devised prior to taking off were key components to daily success and overall project completion. We repeated this each day collecting images of the thousands of distribution line poles safely and quickly.
Southern California in June, yes, it was hot! Such heat creates a unique condition in which to be operating drones. In fact, there were days we were maxing out the operating temperature of the drones. We could, at times, only fly the drone for 10 minutes before we would need to cool it off in the air conditioned car. The drones were still operating safely, however, environmental conditions can definitely have an impact. Sometimes, try as we might, we can’t predict every failure point. With great teamwork and best practices in place, problems can be overcome! At times too, it can be easy to forget the boundaries and limitations of technology. Happenings such as this are great reminders to be attentive and aware of our technologies capabilities and power.
Talking with strangers is, at times, no simple task. On the other side of each fence, door and window is an intricate life of experience that others are blind to. As a VO, being aware of this is important to our safety and effective communication. When people see a (DJI Inspire 2) drone (with a zenmuse x7 lens) flying above or near their home, it can lead to an array of responses. Some people think they’re great, others distrust them. I interacted with many people who were pleased with our presence and excited to have us there working to keep them safe and others who were unhappy at first, but with a kind conversion and explanation were happy to have us there. Then there were others who told us to leave. As a VO for Juniper Unmanned (and as a pilot myself) fostering understanding, awareness, and communications about drones and our operations in the area was important for successfully completing the job. Further though, I hoped to develop and shape the greater social appeal of drones. Working to make drones something people are able to see as valuable as opposed to something purely invasive and destructive. With the growing number of drone businesses, operators, and owners, it is important we all as drone operators continue to keep open dialogue and communication concerning the uses of drones.
Through this experience, I was able to gain valuable exposure and knowledge in the world of drones. I made wonderful connections, developed my skills and understanding of drones and furthered my excitement and passion for drones. This was an incredible opportunity for a new pilot to learn and explore the industry and I am very grateful and thankful. None of this would have been possible without my connection to Central Colorado UAS and the special opportunities and connections they provide. A big Thank You to the club and all of the wonderful people that make it all possible!
Thanks For Reading,
Leah M. Dory Leahdory@gmail.com