Unmanned aerial system (UAS) developer Insitu has completed the first commercial beyond visual line of sight operation with a UAS ScanEagle.
Launched from a tower site near Vaughn, New Mexico, US, the UAS unmanned covered 48 contiguous states, and will help further improve railway safety and infrastructure inspection.
Insitu partnered with freight railroad operator BNSF for the launch.
ScanEagle is part of the US Federal Aviation Administration’s Pathfinder programme, an initiative to develop UAS regulations.
Insitu president and CEO Ryan Hartman said: "Our systems have been flying globally for more than a decade, and these operations are a positive opportunity to further inform the conversation surrounding the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace."
The virtually undetectable UAS delivers imagery on land and at sea and suitable for various missions ranging from agricultural assessment to force protection.
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With a length of 5.1ft and wing span of 10.2ft, the UAS has a ceiling of 19,500ft.
Capable of flying for 24h at speeds of up to 80k, ScanEagle provided real-time video covering 64 miles of BNSF’s track.
BNSF Railway operations executive vice-president Greg Fox said: "Our Pathfinder project is expected to be a significant enhancement to the tremendous amount of data and information we already gather as part of our track inspection programme.
"The capabilities these aircraft have to gather additional intelligence that can then be fed in real-time to track inspectors on the ground will fundamentally enhance our programme and the safety of the our railroad while helping to keep our people safe in harsh and extreme conditions."
The series of flights started on 25 October and will continue through the end of the week.
Image: Insitu and BNSF officials launch ScanEagle for the historic first flight. Photo: courtesy of Insitu.