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PennDOT Trains Drone Pilots, Spotters to Monitor Sinkholes Rockslides, Highway Projects and Bridges

January 12, 2022 02:00 PM
By: Daryl St. Clair

​Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), or drones, have proved to be a useful tool for PennDOT.  Drones are used to remotely view areas which are not accessible by foot, that provide a safety hazard to personnel, or where a "bird's eye view" is needed.  The Bureau of Construction and Materials, Central Office Geotechnical Section has used drones since 2012 to view and monitor sinkholes, land/rockslides, and to provide an overview of highway projects and bridge construction.

PennDOT requires an operator and spotter for drone flights.  PennDOT's Bureau of Aviation requires both the drone operator and spotter to obtain a UAS pilot license from the FAA.  The operator is to submit an AV-14 Form, which explains the flight location and conditions, to their UAS Coordinator.  Approval for the flight must be obtained in advance of the drone flight, and when the drone is in flight the operator must always keep the drone within their line of site.  The drone is not authorized to be flown over traffic or people, and flight is not recommended when precipitation and strong winds are forecast.  CO Geotech's UAS system has greatly increased capability to assist districts, while improving the safety of field views when used as approved and under correct conditions.

CO Geotech currently uses the DJI Phantom 4 RTK and the DJI Mavic Mini drones.  Both drones can fly approximately 30 minutes on a fully charged battery; with up to 2.5 hours of flight time using backup batteries.  The operator uses the drone's camera to take high resolution photos and videos.  Stabilizing systems in the drone keep the images clear and stable, even in a moderate wind.  The drone's "home" function can be used to automatically return the drone to its takeoff location at any point during the flight to facilitate a safe landing.

As UAS is an emerging technology, CO Geotech coordinates with the FAA, as well as PennDOT's Bureau of Aviation, and Photogrammetry and Surveying Section to ensure FAA and PennDOT UAS requirements and regulations are followed.  CO Geotech also provides feedback to these agencies to assure useful results, and safe and efficient UAS operation.

For further information on CO Geotech's drone, or for more information on drone use for geotechnical applications, please contact the Central Office Geotechnical Section.

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