BNSF Railway Tests UAS for Track Monitoring
Wednesday, October 28, 2015 | Comments

At a tower site near Vaughn, New Mexico, Insitu said it accomplished the first commercial beyond visual line of sight operation with an unmanned aerial system (UAS) in the contiguous 48 states.

The Oct. 25 event marked the beginning of a weeklong series of flights with BNSF Railway designed to show how unmanned aircraft technology can help in the effort to further enhance railway safety and infrastructure inspection.

The flight was part of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Pathfinder program, an initiative to develop UAS regulations in collaboration with industry that was announced in May.

“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,” said 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.”

In its first day of operations, ScanEagle, Insitu’s UAS system, provided real-time video covering 64 miles of the 132-mile stretch of track that BNSF designated for the exercise. ScanEagle is capable of flying for up to 24 hours at speeds of up to 80 knots. The flights will continue through the end of the week.

“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,” said 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.”

Insitu is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Co.

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