NPPD hires drone vendor for big project

SHICKLEY, Neb. (KSNB) - You might see a drone flying over Fillmore County the next few days, but this time we know who's behind the controller.

The Nebraska Public Power District hired UAV Recon, a drone vendor, to do some inspection work on high voltage transmission lines near Shickley this week.(Source: Kelsey Dickeson, KSNB)

The Nebraska Public Power District hired UAV Recon, a drone vendor, to do some inspection work on high voltage transmission lines this week near Shickley.

Unlike the mysterious drones flying over the state at night the past few weeks, this one will only fly during the day.

FAA licensed pilots operate the drone. Before inspecting the transmission lines, they inspect the drone.

"We have a 50 hour maintenance interval where we go in and remove all the screws, put new lock-tight on and reinstall them just so that we have the aircraft in the most airworthy condition as possible," said Kirk Demuth, chief UAS pilot for UAV Recon.

The crew also checks the drone's propellers and batteries before take off.

One of the pilots then flies the drone to the lattice towers with a remote controller. A high resolution camera takes between six and eight photos of the line from different angles.

Linemen with UAV Recon will then examine the photos to identify any defects in the line. That lets NPPD crews know what components they'll need to bring ahead of future repairs.

"It's really nice to be able to have pictures," said Grant Otten, media relations specialist with Nebraska Public Power District. "So instead of sending a couple of guys up in a helicopter, and there's 123 structures on this line that they're going to be looking at, so instead of having to go on this whole line in a helicopter they can take the drone up. It's a little bit quicker."

The camera used on this drone is more advanced than what the company previously used. Demuth said they use to take between 40 and 60 photos of each structure. He said the resolution is much higher on the new camera, so they don't need to take as many.

Demuth said the line is in an uncontrolled airspace, so they're cleared to fly there. If it wasn't, they'd have to get permission from the FAA.

Demuth said he does fear how people will view their legal operations since the recent drone spottings.

"Whoever's operating those aircrafts, when they don't notify the public, it creates a lot of concern and paranoia because they don't know," Demuth said.

Demuth said that's why they take a proactive approach in this situation.The companies notify law enforcement and people living in the area that they'll be flying a drone there.

"We're not spying on anybody. We're doing a job. So we want to make sure everyone knows we're there."

Demuth said they expect to continue inspections on the transmission line over the next two days. If the weather takes a turn, it could take longer.