Lights on, lights off: an East Texas helicopter’s mission

LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - By Taylor Hemness - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - The unmanned helicopter may look like a toy in the skies above Longview, but it is actually working for the power company.

AEP SWEPCo has hired an Oklahoma contractor to take a closer look at some of its recently installed lines. They are doing their job by remote control.

Having a photographic record of a string of power lines helps companies like AEP SWEPCo with the design of new projects, and with repairing the lines after a storm blows through. And having a bird's eye view is really the best way to go.

"We can set this machine ten feet above the transmission line, and get the shots they need, and do it in a safe manner," explained Brad Smith with Smith Productions.

Smith Productions uses their un-manned helicopter to get still photos and shots that are better than anything a full-size chopper could capture.

"The unique aspect of what we do here is just how low a shot we can get," said Smith. "We try to get the low-level shots, the 100-200 foot range, that you really couldn't get otherwise safely."

Just because it's a small machine, doesn't mean it's lacking in technology.

"[It has] full pan and tilt, wireless downlink to a ground station for my camera man, that enables him to see the shot, frame it up properly," said Smith.

The little chopper has seen quite a bit of work in the Lone Star state, but nothing quite like in East Texas.

"You have these really tall loblolly pine trees," said Smith. "They might be 80 feet right next to a line. That presents some challenges because ordinarily we might be in south or west Texas, and you just don't have the kind of greenery out there."

When you are that close to the trees, and the power lines, Smith says there is no reason to put a person in harm's way.

"If it's a high-risk situation, where you can lose a little equipment, but you don't want to risk a life, you send in an un-manned drone, and you're safe about it."

AEP says it has been using the remote control helicopter for about four years, replacing the old method of using video stills taken from full-size choppers.

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