03/2013

Test pilots help to create a new and state-of-the-art cockpit for the A350. So much innovation, that it makes piloting way more comfortable. Take a peek into the cockpit and find out what makes it so very comfortable and what is innovative about it.
The A350's new cockpit is a true technology update.

When you thought there were no more news in aerial flight maneuvers, optionally piloted vehicles (OPV) fly by. Demanding a whole new thinking and forcing new solutions to work seamlessly and flawlessly even under extreme conditions. Fasten your seatbelt and read!

Innovation and Comfort - The A350 Cockpit challenge
 

Jean-Michel Roy is an Airbus test pilot. We met up with Jean Michel at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget to hear the thinking behind the new A350’s cockpit and how it was developed.

 
Innovation and Comfort - Cockpit A350
JM Roy in the Airbus’ A350 XWB’s full-scale cockpit mockup located in the EADS exhibit hall during the Paris Air Show 2013
 

What lead to the current configuration of the A350 cockpit?

Jean-Michel Roy: Marrying commonality with innovation was the idea. The former has been one of the traditional strengths of Airbus for many years. Familiarity in this case does not breed contempt but is the grounding for innovation. We saw a strong need for pairing both in the development of the new cockpit. Flying is a demanding task. The easier the developers can make it, the better the results will be for all.

 

Are there certain sets of standards Airbus follows when designing a cockpit?

Jean-Michel Roy: Absolutely. Over the years a set of rules has been established which could be labelled the ’10 commandments of cockpit design at Airbus’.

  1. The pilot is responsible for safety with complete authority and the means to exercise this authority.
  2. Full control authority is given to the pilot
  3. Avoid risk of danger or damage to the aircraft.
  4. The cockpit has to be adapted to a large variety of pilot experience and pilot abilities and the design priority is safety, then passenger comfort, then efficiency.
  5. The interfaces are designed to simplify crew tasks and to provide a rapidly comprehensible appreciation of the state of the aircraft.
  6. To help the pilots, the automatics are considered as an aid to the crews.
  7. The interface must be adapted to crew requirements and characteristics.
  8. The validation process of the cockpit design must also include consideration of error management.
  9. Keep the crew communication easy.
  10. The introduction of new functionalities and technologies has to be driven by an improvement in safety or an operational advantage for the crews.
 

What elements make the cockpit so special? And what is new?

Jean-Michel Roy: As soon as you can make a pilot feel at home in a cockpit, the amount of information required to fulfil this demanding task is reduced. As a result the pilots’ workload is eased and the pilots will arrive at their destination at the end of the flight more relaxed benefitting passengers as well as crew safety, not to mention the long term effect this has on a pilot’s health. We have made a lot of effort to help the pilots.
The A350 XWB takes the basic A380 concept, but improves the interface with larger and better positioned screens, providing better visibility of information across the cockpit with improved and extended interactivity. In particular, the design (using six identical screens) makes the task of sharing operational information between pilots much easier, while privileging information that corresponds to any given situation. Using the A380 cockpit definition as a starting point, the A350 XWB has integrated several improvements and innovations.

 

Could you provide us with an example?

Jean-Michel Roy: Six identical large format screens are built into the cockpit. In order to be able to mount these monitors the cockpit dimensions needed to be a bit wider than originally planned. The idea was to adopt a new large LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) screen layout with the lateral screens angled inwards, to allow excellent cross-cockpit visibility and optimum flexibility for displaying information. Onboard Information Systems’ (OIS) applications are adapted to the large screen format while at the same time, the system is able to present information on the central screen (OIS on ‘centre’) vastly improving the sharing of information between pilots. This configuration also provides a supplementary avionics page which further improves cockpit efficiency.

Extended pilot interactivity allows the pilots to use the cursor control to manage the external screens as well as the opposite Multi-Functional Display (MFD), should the need arise. In case of screen failure, automatic reconfiguration occurs for the avionics pages. For one or two outer screen failures the OIS information can be recovered manually on the lower centre screen. Even losing three screens (which is highly improbable) does not severely impact the flight in progress, thanks to the ‘Push To Be Happy’ option which selects the information displayed on screens. The configuration of six identical large displays covering EFB (Electronic Flight Bag) and avionics is not currently installed on any other large commercial airliner. It provides a weight benefit (-30kg less than A380 screens), and has reduced electrical power consumption while improving dispatch reliability.

We were also able to improve the Flight Management System (FMS). Improvements and functions to anticipate certain failure scenarios are now included, significantly reducing the pilots’ workload. A long range mode is permanently available to ease fuel savings. The pilot can play a virtual scenario such as single-engine failure or depressurization using the ‘What if’ function, to assess the capability of the aircraft following a degradation at any point along the route. Similarly with any problem increasing aircraft drag (e.g.: spoiler fixed deployed), the Flight Management System (FMS) can be adjusted for fuel burn to provide better predictions for the remainder of the flight. The FMS allows the crew to perform a variety of approaches whether based upon conventional navigation aids or Diff GPS (Differential Global Positioning System) offering increased position accuracy up to RNP 0.1 (Required Navigation Performance). The ability to fly precise trajectories through difficult terrain or for noise abatement reasons has considerably improved.

 

A final word?

Jean-Michel Roy: We are very proud of the results we can now show in the new A350 XWB’s cockpit. The many innovations built into it make it truly “state of the art” and put it into a league of its own. It will help to improve air traffic safety and will reduce fatigue and stress impact on the pilots thus enhancing the overall flying experience. I can only say that the new A350 XWB cockpit is a complete success for Airbus – and one that has set new standards in cockpit ergonomics and design.

Innovations on the A350

Have you been able to introduce any innovations to the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB)?

Jean-Michel Roy: The integrated and intuitive Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) is a standard laptop computer. However, its integrated Keyboard Cursor Control Unit (KCCU) can interact with the cockpit screens. Furthermore, it benefits from the ‘OIS on centre’ function to improve crew coordination and share workload. Although completely integrated within the aircraft avionics system, it remains independent (class 2) allowing companies to develop and use their own proprietary applications – a request we had received from our customers in more than one case. This integration does not endanger the security of the integrated avionics systems since the two worlds are segregated - avionics and EFB. The organisation of the cockpit also allows pilots to place the laptop on the lateral surface. Hereby, the system fulfils the functionality of class 1, fully functional in standalone laptop mode in case of multiple failures. The A350 XWB is also able to communicate with its home-base via lassical ACARS (Aircraft Communication Assessing & Reporting System) for data updates by Wi-Fi, wideband SATCOM (Satellite Communications) and cell phone.

In your presentation in Le Bourget you also mentioned innovations achieved for the Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitoring (ECAM)?

Jean-Michel Roy: The ECAM interface has been revisited with improved access to information (system pages, shortcuts, deferred and abnormal procedures). A dispatch function has been implemented to ease the crew’s workload during pre-flight dispatch. The A350 XWB cockpit now separates the normal checklist from the ‘abnormal’. This separation now allows for the normal check lists to be followed without compromising the sequence of the abnormal procedures being run. Isolating abnormal situations improves readability, easing corrective procedure. For multiple failures, a priority system automatically provides the pilot with a recommended order of responses. Failures affecting performance (landing, for example) are presented on the status page with automatic transfer of the failure impact to the performance applications for correct computation by the crew.

Further Added value for general flight safety and efficiency of operation is offered by the following systems:
The AP/TCAS (Auto Pilot/Flight Director Traffic Collision Avoidance System) allows the aircraft to automatically respond to avoid conflictual traffic based upon the Auto-Pilot.

The TCAP (TCAS RA Prevention) prevents unwanted alarms due to high vertical speeds prior to altitude capture when other traffic is in the vicinity.

The ATSAW (Airborne Traffic Situation Awareness) provides an improved awareness of traffic in the vicinity with added value from ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast ) information such as speed, call sign, turbulence category, etc., and also provides the facility for ITP (In-Trail Procedures).

Voice communications have been improved with FANS (Future Air Navigation System) A and B capability data-link via SATCOM, VHF or HF. Monitoring frequencies received in the mailbox can be loaded directly without the risk of a typing error.

In the case of a Windshear, Terrain or TCAS warning, the display automatically adjusts appropriately to provide a clear and comprehensible picture of the threat.

AutoRange/AutoMode
If the crew has not selected the radar display and a weather (Wx) threat is detected, the system will automatically provide a ‘Weather Ahead’ alert. The correct take-off speed is calculated – which often is the source of error - checking the coherence of speed values, the geographic position and the aircraft’s capacity to take-off in a safe manner.

Another innovation is the further improved Brake To Vacate/Runway Overrun Warning & Protection (BTV/ROW/ROP) systems from the A380 on the A350 XWB with the introduction of runway contamination levels.
Furthermore, a specific interface allows the crew to quickly check that the aircraft is capable of landing on the runway available based on selected hypotheses.

Cleaning up Space
 

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are lost in space. 300 miles up in earth’s orbit their space shuttle has just been destroyed by space debris travelling at thousands of miles an hour. They have to get to another space station before their oxygen runs out.
Alfonso Cuarón’s film “Gravity” is of course pure Hollywood fiction and another potential blockbuster. Space Debris is however fact. The good news is that Astrium has a plan. High Flyer spoke to Astrium Vice President ATM & SSA/SiS Coordination Olivier Colaitis at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget.

 
Mitigation scenarios: Reorbiting a spacecraft into a - graveyard orbit
Mitigation scenarios: Reorbiting a spacecraft into a 'graveyard orbit'
 

The problem is not just removing the debris that is up in space, it is also a matter of addressing the political background. What is actually meant by “space debris”? Currently there is talk of 17.000 space objects greater than 10cm in size, that are tracked and catalogued in earth orbit by the USA. Of these only 800 are active satellites with 360 in geo-stationary orbit (GEO: 22,369 miles above the earth), many of which represent trong, economic vested interests. Low earth orbit (LEO) is used more for defence operations, and by earth observation space craft on scientific, institutional and commercial missions. Protecting these assets alone is an enormous responsibility as collisions not only create more debris but would also have a direct effect on defence and economic infrastructure. The issues involved in addressing the problem are complex as they are concerned with the world’s economies, scientific and weather prediction, earth observation, security and defence. The other side of the coin however, are the questions regarding the sustainable growth of the space “environment”, legal parameters in space, and those of sovereignty and independence. The potential for conflict is greatest when considering the issues of security versus sustainability.

For Colaitis the problem is more easily viewed with a simple analogy, “Let’s talk about the junk: Imagine your own backyard. After years of accumulating all manner of gardening rubbish, there comes the day when you have to clear it out”.

The first space missions were around 50 years ago, and at the time, nobody was concerned by what happened to objects sent into space, after their mission had been completed.. These include the upper stages of launchers, payloads and mission-related objects. In addition there is material which has come about as a result of explosions and collisions, liquid metal droplets and surface degradation. Natural sinks are atmospheric drag, gravitation of sun, moon and solar radiation pressure slowly forcing objects in low earth orbit back towards the planet. However this natural decay of space junk takes thousands of years, and the process is not immediately helpful in making space sustainable. Active efforts to de-orbit objects at the end of their life by retro-boosting can only be instigated when the space legislation to do so has come into force.

Cleaning up Space
Mitigations scenarios – Passivating satellites and rocket bodies
 

So, we talked about there being 17.000 objects, greater than 10cm, in space orbit. However, there are 700.000 objects larger than a centimetre, and 200 million objects greater than a millimetre. Due to their size, neither has ever been surveyed. Another aspect of the problem is the speed of the object, equating to around 5 miles per second on the LEO orbit at an altitude of 500 miles: an object only a few millimetres in diameter can damage or destroy a spacecraft completely. Objects of this size are more of a challenge as they are too small to be actively tracked and require protective measures on board satellites. Debris impact is therefore an everyday issue and has been for as long as mankind has been active in space. Fortunately most minor impacts are absorbed by the satellite surfaces and do not pose a threat to the mission or to the planet.
Nevertheless, debris is increasing with experts predicting one spatial collision every 5 years by 2050 with another 8 to 9 spatial collisions expected in the next 40 years. The NASA and the ESA believe that between 5 and 10 large objects need to be removed per year in order both to maintain space sustainability and reduce impact probability.

Where does one start? The process known as debris mitigation consists of four steps: prevention; survive, avoid, and remove. “Prevention” involves producing regulations (Space laws) that impose so-called post mission disposal (PMD) manoeuvres at the end of spacecraft life to minimize the time spent in orbit post mission. Of course PMD should be performed in such a way as to avoid casualties on the ground. “Survival” involves reducing the vulnerability of satellites to the impact of objects which are only a few millimetres in size. “Avoid” concerns measures to take satellites out of the path of tracked objects (larger than 10 centimetres today). This also requires a situational awareness system in space able to detect and track those objects. “Removal” is the physical clean-up of objects with different possible solutions depending of the size of the object and has been given the key title “Active Debris Removal”.

Cleaning up Space
Artist’s concept showing how a defunct satellite could be grappled for a controlled reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, where it would burn up and be destroyed harmlessly.
 

All in all, a task which requires a team consisting of specialists from the various divisions of Astrium, including engineers, technicians, but also legal and sales people. To address the 4 steps above, various solutions and technologies need to be invented and matured. Colaitis explains the problem solving going on, “For example, we are studying the possibility of increasing the resilience of satellites towards small debris (<1 cm) by hardening spacecraft with protective layers and duplicated architecture. We are investigating ablating small debris (<10cm) from space by using high power lasers, while at the same time developing ground and space based optical solutions to detect and track objects. However we also envisage missions to physically remove large objects from space which in themselves require the development of solutions to approach the debris, to catch it and de orbit it in a controlled manner.”

Astrium staff working on such projects are characteristically driven by two core competences: Imagination and innovation are needed, to develop these new solutions, technically but also legally and business wise. When you listen to Colaitis, it is clear that the teams involved in the Astrium studies are both highly motivated, and enthusiastic beyond the every day norm.

Astrium has had the opportunity to participate in some smaller projects financed by customers such as ESA, DLR, CNES, UkSA and the European Union, but is also investing its own internal funds to create “working groups”, thus creating synergies within the company to deal with this issue. The Astrium teams have been successful in obtaining study contracts via direct competition. An example is the EU FP 7 Remove Debris project, which after final negotiations will ultimately result in a small demonstration using mini satellites known as CubeSats.

Astrium - Cleaning up Space
Explosions of satellites & rocket bodies
 

Two years ago Astrium created a coordination process to organize the various business divisions interested in this field, thus enabling the whole organization to benefit from the knowledge gained by each division. For example the SSA architecture contract was acquired from ESA by organising a team lead by Astrium Friedrichshafen with Les Mureaux, Portsmouth and Bremen.

Getting people to work together on such a project is not a problem for Colaitis, “There are no real difficulties getting people around the same table. The question is always to decide who is leading a project, a tender and / or a technology. The best solution for that is to make sure that the team knows each other, that they talk to each other on a regular basis and that they trust each other. Scheduling meetings is often a challenge in such an international organization because Astrium’s various sites have different vacation dates, due to national and local constraints.”

Getting the programme known as Active Debris Removal (ADR) up and running will take some time. Demonstration of various techniques will be carried out during the next 5 years, assuming the availability of funding and programmes from customers. The German DEOS (German orbital servicing mission) project that is today at phase B level, is planned to enter development proper (the so-called Phase C) in 2014. It will demonstrate the feasibility of approaching and capturing a non-cooperative object with a robotic arm. All these will pave the way for a fully-fledged mission.

Cleaning up Space
Mitigation scenarios – Avoidance of mission-related objects (MRO)
 

Astrium has already successfully conducted the de-orbit of the 20 ton ATV returning to earth from the International Space Station (ISS).
Contracts such as the CNES’s OTV (Orbital Transfer Vehicle) focusing on the removal of space debris between now and 2020, are also allowing the Astrium team to work with external partners as Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL, UK), the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL, Switzerland), and Bertin Technologies (France), to get the benefit of ideas and experience from those companies involved in similar fields.

Commenting on the most recent study project, awarded by the French space agency CNES, as part of the Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV) programme, Astrium Space Transportation CEO Alain Charmeau said “Through this latest study, Astrium will pave the way to solving a major issue for all space users. In mobilising our industrial resources in conjunction with those of national agencies, we will put forward innovative solutions and technologies capable of dealing with space debris and thereby ensuring the sustainable development of space.”

Active Debris Removal is not just good for space; it is fundamental to the future development of space both in business and environmental terms.

For the astronaut played by George Clooney the encounter with space debris doesn’t end on a happy note. In the real world however Astrium’s Active Debris Removal could be the box office success to guarantee a sustainable space business.

EUROCOPTERs UNMANNED OPTION - The OPV
 
Mr. Roland Gassenmayer
Roland Gassenmayer in front of the EC145 demonstrator.
Eurocopter Project manager Innovation Roland Gassenmayer is taking a radical approach towards the issue of human-machine-interface. He has removed the “human” from the cockpit entirely! High Flyer talked to the man responsible for Eurocopter’s optionally piloted vehicle programme.

To the man on the street, unmanned helicopters would appear at first to make little sense – why is Eurocopter pursuing such a project?

Gassenmayer: We have observed industry taking the first tentative steps in the world of unmanned technical environments. At Eurocopter we see unmanned helicopters, or optionally piloted vehicles (OPV) providing significant advantages in several mission scenarios. In all fields, where vertical take-off, positioning and especially landing is requested, helicopters are the ideal solution for our customer's operational challenges. Unmanned helicopters provide further advantages in so-called “Dangerous, Dull and Dirty Missions” in the same way that all unmanned vehicles can play a valuable role. We believe unmanned helicopters can provide critical support in extreme conditions such as nuclear accidents, general disaster management or dangerous humanitarian support activities, where a helicopter crew would otherwise be in considerable danger. Furthermore in the course of such innovation, we continue to discover many new environments for unmanned and conventionally operated helicopters as a result.

 

What are the differences compared to conventional unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) programmes?

Gassenmayer: Quite simply, optionally piloted helicopters can be flown in both manned and unmanned mode, thereby providing the operator with a much higher degree of flexibility depending on the mission profile. All functions and control elements of the classical helicopter remain available and operational. Unmanned missions can be conducted without further technical change to the OPV.

 

What are the difficulties associated with remote control/ unmanned aircraft/ helicopters?

Gassenmayer: There are a number of challenges which need to be overcome before we can conduct our first unmanned flight. These include establishing the failure-case scenarios, safety, architecture, autopilot control laws for automatic take-off and landing, stabilization in all flight phases, all of which involve complex technical systems each with thousands of items of data and parameters that need to be taken into consideration. Furthermore controlling the helicopter itself from a ground control station (GCS) requires adaptation to a different operational perspective and control means in those individuals responsible for operating the aircraft.

 

Who are the people in the ground control station? Are they fully-trained pilots? Can one call the OPV unmanned?

Gassenmayer: During our test flights the GCS (and therefore the helicopter) was operated by an experienced Eurocopter Flight Test Crew. Even though the system is able to perform a lot of the challenging tasks of a traditional pilot, humans always have the final say and remain in control.

 

Does the EC145 have particular characteristics that make it suitable for use as a test bed? Are there other platforms suitable for unmanned applications?

Gassenmayer: The EC145 is a very reliable test bed providing us with enough room to conduct such innovative programmes. New systems and flight test instrumentation can be installed without compromising space and weight parameters. Additionally we still have enough room in the cabin for a technical observer (for example a systems engineer) if required. I am proud of all of Eurocopter’s products and would like to add that the programme would have worked successfully with a wide range of Eurocopter platforms.

 

Tell us some more about the team on the project? You mentioned the need to be able to think differently.

Gassenmayer: Good point. This was the big factor for success and for me it was a privilege to have led the AFlight Team. The team was created specifically with this project in mind. Those selected for the project have all brought several years of theoretical and practical experience in different domains on the helicopter. In the elementary core team there are a handful of people who worked full time on AFlight creating the full raft of technical definitions and were also responsible for project management. As the challenge was mainly technical, the required skills for all members of the team were in design and development for architecture, safety, system- and software engineering, installation and testing. The main systems in question were autopilot, control chain, navigation and flight data sensors and the remote control system. Furthermore we had additional staff who worked part time on AFlight depending on the required tasks (including design, prototype shop, flight test, procurement).

EUROCOPTERs UNMANNED OPTION - The OPV
The Eurocopter Flight Test Crew in the ground station

How were you able to put such a diverse team together?

Gassenmayer: We had a wealth of talent from both within the company and a few individuals who came from our external partners. The team needed to have a number of highly-motivated colleagues with different design lead functions, including prototype shop and flight test. There was a mix of long-serving engineers with a lot of experience and younger colleagues; however the common denominator for all was a dogged approach to solving problems and working closely with them has to be one of the highlights of my career thus far. Here are a few examples from the core crew: The team for the Autopilot sub project was led by a colleague, with more than 30 years experience in Eurocopter Electrical and Autopilot systems. He was supported by a team of younger engineers, responsible for designing the software. The colleague responsible for the design of the remote control system has more than 15 years of experience on Eurocopter research projects, piloting assistance systems, HMI design and architecture layout. I myself have a background in avionics architecture and system integration. My assistant supported me in project management and the creation of design documents. Both of us have benefited from experience in civilian helicopter customization and systems integration department.

 

Is there a business case for unmanned helicopters?

Gassenmayer: We are investigating the costs and risks. Regardless of business case estimations, some of our customers are asking us to dig deeper as they clearly believe in the future of OPVs. Furthermore there is considerable potential within the framework of this project to learn more about the simplification of helicopter operations per se, reduction of pilot workload and to apply these lessons in the short term into our helicopters.

 

Do you see more potential in military or civilian applications?

Gassenmayer: In my view the answer depends on the timeline. I think during the next 5-10 years, a certain size of unmanned helicopters will be operated exclusively by the military and major official services. The development of the unmanned civilian market has only just begun and it will be some time before we see unmanned civilian and commercial aircraft applications. We believe humanitarian organizations will benefit greatly from this technology, as crews will no longer need to be put at risk on dangerous missions for example in crisis zones or hostile environments.

 

What difficulties do you face after having mastered the technical challenge? (by which we mean certification and acceptance by users)?

Gassenmayer: I would say that we still have a lot of dreams and challenges in front of us rather than difficulties. Certification is clearly one of those challenges. For example currently there is no certification documentation available to support the operation of such helicopters in European airspace. Nevertheless we believe that the OPV concept can provide a supporting argument for this due to its flexibility. Initially where legally required, flights inside controlled airspace can be performed with a pilot on board and unmanned operation can be performed in segregated airspace under special flight authorization. Another challenge we face is to improve the functionality of the system by adding in more capability. This will certainly be required by our customers in future with features such as deck-landing capability and operation beyond line of sight.

 

Finally - Can you tell us how you found your way to Eurocopter?

Gassenmayer: I think I always had a thing for electronics. After finishing school, I completed an apprenticeship in Radio Communication electronics in a small start up company. That taught me a great deal about the electrical and mechanical aspects of a development programme and in particular the importance of testing. I decided to go back to school in order to be able to do a degree which I completed in Electric and Information-Technology at the Technical University in Munich in 1996. That same year I started working for Eurocopter in Donauwörth spending 2 years inside the military national support centre and then 13 years in civilian helicopters customization. I have worked for the Innovation department since September 2011.

The power utility drone: New horizons for the UAV
 

Everyone is talking about drones at the moment but did you know that the technology aboard an unmanned aerial vehicle (or UAV) is all about improving efficiency. The case for the use of UAVs remains strong – just think of the vast areas needing surveillance in case of wildfires witnessed in the USA or flooding scenarios that dominate the news on a regular basis. An example of an innovative civilian application of UAV technology is the project currently being worked on by French electricity distribution network operator ERDF and Cassidian subsidiary Survey Copter.

unmanned aerial 
												vehicle (or UAV) - Cassidian
 

Innovation is the key and for Cassidian the challenges involved in developing an automated solution to the problem of monitoring power lines provided an excellent opportunity to showcase technologies developed for quite different scenarios. The dilemma faced by the French electricity distribution network operator ERDF (Electricité Réseau Distribution France) in the “Sillon Rhodanien” region in the south of France is not new. In an area notorious for its difficult and often inaccessible terrain, ERDF’s requirement was for a means of inspecting medium-high-voltage aerial power lines in order to gather directly-usable data on a regular basis and at low cost. The data required by ERDF is as diverse as it could be: ranging from the actual condition of the networks (including the conductors and the pylons) to monitoring the interference of vegetation, in order to schedule both maintenance and such tasks as tree pruning.

Survey Copter suggested introducing a dedicated UAV and started testing in the Drôme and Ardèche départements, with the aim of deploying their Copter 4 UAV during 2014. Survey Copter CEO Jean-Marc Masenelli highlights the task’s challenges.

Jean-Marc Masenelli: “ERDF contacted Survey Copter after surveying all UAV manufacturers in France and concluding that our platforms are the best on the market. We realised that the greatest challenge was to find a way to produce 3D imagery. ERDF’s main objective is to check whether there are interferences between the lines and the surrounding forest before sending in ground clearance teams to the power lines. We solved this issue by integrating a LiDAR system into our helicopter.”

LiDAR is an amalgam of the words light and radar and refers to remote sensing technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser and then analysing the reflected light

The helicopter chosen for the task was Survey Copter’s own Copter 4 mini UAS (Unmanned Aerial System). With an operating weight of 30 kg and a range of 50 kilometres, the UAV appeared ideal. Added to this, its airtime operation extends to 2hrs and 50 minutes. Additionally its reliability is second to none, it requires no prepared areas for take off and landing and given its excellent flying characteristics and hover mode it is perfectly suited to the ERDF observation. The real deal-winner according to Masenelli is the Survey Copter team.

The power utility drone - UAV
 

Jean-Marc Masenelli: “The people involved in the project are all Survey Copter staff and are well versed in the operation of our Copter 4. Monitoring of all operations is undertaken with ERDF experts and all Survey Copter people have to do is control the drone and take the pictures requested by ERDF.“

Claude Dubreuil, Deputy Director of ERDF for the Sillon Rhodanien region agrees, "Rapidly obtaining extremely precise images of locations that are often inaccessible, thus speeding up repairs and restoration of the networks following meteorological events, is a real need for ERDF and our collaboration with Survey Copter would seem to demonstrate that UAVs give a clear edge in this sector. The purpose of the experiments currently under way is to validate the feasibility and economic conditions of this innovative technique."

HighFlyer: What are their backgrounds – how are they equipped to deal with the challenge?

Jean-Marc Masenelli: The operators in charge of these missions for ERDF are the same people we use for all our customers, including the military. There are two operators responsible for a mission. The first, named the security pilot has a licence to pilot the drone (after specific training) and is able to control the UAV manually if required. He is without a doubt the guarantor of the mission’s success. The second is an IT specialist, able to define the flight plan, set up and control the automatic flight via the ground station. He has obviously some knowledge of aeronautics but is clearly not a pilot”.

Masenelli underlines that the implementation of UAVs isn’t just a one-off for a power line company in France, “The aim of our cooperation with ERDF is to implement real industrial solutions able to meet the need for inspection not only of aerial lines, but also of other electricity production infrastructure: dams, nuclear power plants, wind farms, photovoltaic plants, etc. The variety of our UAVs and the sensors we can install on them means that we can address all these requirements. The roadmap we have established with ERDF will enable us to develop and then gradually deploy these solutions, involving other partners so that eventually a complete service can be provided, including not only data collection by the UAV, but also its post-processing and formatting. Our vision is a global one and ERDF will need robust partners for the long term; Survey Copter and Cassidian have both the capacity and the desire to become these partners.”

The roadmap is a detailed exercise in logistical and developmental planning requiring the buy-in of numerous departments within Cassidian. These include Cassidian CPM Business Line which is involved in the UAV development. Nevertheless, Survey Copter is in charge of all the development and production of Mini-UAVS (Up to 50 kg) within the group.

HighFlyer: ERDF is a very obvious partner – are there others which immediately come to mind?

Jean-Marc Masenelli: It is too early to confirm specific organizations but the potential is there. Forestry authorities, water management authorities, (including flooding, spillage management programmes), traffic management, crowd management and all manner of airborne border patrols would benefit from this kind of technology.

HighFlyer: What potential is in the technology at present?

Jean-Marc Masenelli: The answer is quite simple: The technology is ready and available.

HighFlyer: How is Cassidian/Survey Copter working to improve the development process in comparison to current practice?

Jean-Marc Masenelli: “Our strategy is to feed all the operational requirements coming from our customers back into the development process. This is the motor behind our innovation policy. Being a small company, all our innovation is focused on the operational improvement of our products in the short term, for instance: autonomy, video quality.

It would appear that ERDF and Survey Copter might just have the jump on a brand new approach to an age-old problem and have at the same time discovered the solution to a range of others.

“ERDF monitors 100.000 km of power lines every year. Even if we carry out 5 or 10 % of this inspection, it will represent a significant business for Survey Copter.“