Officials from Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and Lockheed Martin gathered at the Schoolhouse Nine Golf Course in Sperryville on two days this past week to test fly an unmanned fixed-wing aircraft, which if everything goes well will soon take off to pinpoint power line outages in hard-to-reach areas of Rappahannock County.
Rural electric co-ops across the nation have increasingly turned to drones to inspect miles of remote power lines that cross often difficult terrain, greatly reducing manpower and in the event of power outages cutting restoration time by days.
“Plus, they lower the risks” to linemen, says Marc Seay, program manager for Lockheed Martin Energy Solutions, who was on hand in Sperryville for the test flights.
Based on advanced technology that Lockheed Martin develops for the U.S. military, the specially-equipped drones can conduct rapid storm-damage response, detect damage to substations, and identify at-risk power lines and pole damage.
Better yet, it’s “low cost,” according to Lockheed Martin senior program manager Gary Rodgers, who adds that the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Utility Service program has “been decades in the making.”
The nearly 6-foot long UAS fixed wing aircraft, like the one tested in Sperryville (from the Desert Hawk Family), flies up to 40 miles per hour even in windy conditions, has a wingspan of 11.8 feet, weighs 21 pounds fully loaded, has multiple payload options, carries advanced ground software, and has a 360-degree video camera system.