Rockwell Collins teams with Black & Veatch and Ameren for beyond visual line of sight UAS flight within power line infrastructure

August 29, 2017 Photo(s): By Rockwell Collins
  • Commercial flight builds additional safety case for routine, efficient infrastructure monitoring with UAS technology
  • Flight enabled by a mobile, multi-tower Command and Control demonstrator integrated by Rockwell Collins
Rockwell Collins' CNPC-1000 Command and Control data link, integrated into a Pulse Aerospace Vapor 55, undergoes testing at the University of Iowa's OPL before embarking on a 10-mile flight beyond visual line of sight along power line infrastructure owned by Ameren Corp. near Newton, Illinois

Rockwell Collins, working closely with Black & Veatch, has successfully demonstrated a beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) unmanned aerial systems (UAS) flight along almost 10 miles of power line infrastructure owned by Ameren Corp., located near Newton, Illinois.

Leveraging the expertise gained from participation in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Focus Area Pathfinder BNSF Railway program, the companies applied a similar safety case to show that Rockwell Collins' CNPC-1000 Command and Control data link and webUAS operations management technology can be used in other industries with long linear operations, such as inspecting many miles of power lines. The demonstration was supported by safety observers from the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and the University of Iowa's Operator Performance Laboratory (OPL). The OPL coordinated with Rockwell Collins on the integration of the CNPC-1000 into the test vehicle as well as configuration and flying of the UAS for the demonstration.

"Successful deployment of these technologies could revolutionize how we assess and evaluate the condition of our systems," said Shawn Schukar, president of Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois. "Ameren continues to focus on providing safe and reliable service to our companies as efficiently as we can, and our continued efforts related to BVLOS operations help drive that commitment."

"Monitoring critical infrastructure, particularly those in rural areas beyond line of sight, can be done much more efficiently and effectively through the use of UAS technology," said Ken Schreder, vice president, Strategic Programs, Information Management Services at Rockwell Collins. "We've created a mobile BVLOS system with networked command and control capability which enables us to demonstrate the benefits to infrastructure customers."

For this flight, Black & Veatch was responsible for engineering, design and procurement of the temporary network that enabled the CNPC-1000 radio connectivity. The company was also involved in a joint project management effort with Ameren to coordinate all the various parties involved in the test flights.

"This revolutionary asset management approach provides our clients great value by reducing their overall cost of ownership, improving type and frequency of data capture, and creating a safer work environment," said John Janchar, executive vice president of Telecommunications for Black & Veatch. "UAS delivers a powerful asset management platform and combines Black & Veatch's experience and capabilities in the design and deployment of command and control communication networks and utility business knowledge."

Designated the CNPC-1000*, the Rockwell Collins data link conforms to the industry-developed performance standard for command and control submitted to the FAA by the RTCA Special Committee 228 for commercial UAS operations in the national airspace. Rockwell Collins, along with the FAA and NASA, has flown the CNPC-1000 on various aircraft. For this demonstration, the CNPC-1000 was adapted to support low altitude BVLOS operations in support of critical infrastructure monitoring to radio frequency spectrum beyond the frequencies cited by SC-228.

WebUAS is Rockwell Collins' operations management tool that coordinates the multi-node CNPC network, provides real-time situational awareness to flight safety critical information such as link quality, and acts as a gateway to weather, air traffic and critical information and services.