Helicopters equipped with “thermovision” cameras fly into the skies of western Pennsylvania to inspect power lines



The sound of a hovering helicopter is often a sure sign that a serious vehicle accident, fire or other problem has occurred nearby.

But in recent months, many of the helicopters that have taken to the skies in the Allegheny Valley have been looking for trouble instead of responding to it.

FirstEnergy’s power companies in western Pennsylvania – West Penn Power and Penn Power – used helicopters to inspect transmission lines for signs of problems that could disrupt service, Lauren Siburkis said, spokesperson for the electricity distribution company.

“Residents may have seen a small helicopter flying at low altitudes or overhead power lines and transmission towers as workers examined connections to power lines and other equipment,” Siburkis said.

“Aerial inspections are designed to look for damaged wires, broken ties, insulator issues and other hardware issues not visible from the ground,” she said. “Any potential reliability issues identified during inspections are dealt with promptly. “

While the company has used helicopters in the past, a new tool has been added to the inspection arsenal this year: thermovision cameras.

The cameras, attached to the bottom of the aircraft, are able to detect infrared and ultraviolet light which is processed by an on-board thermograph. It can detect potential problems in transmission substations and on high-voltage power lines that cannot be observed during regular visual inspections, she said.

“The most recent inspections using the cameras identified two problems along the high voltage transmission lines serving tens of thousands of customers in the greater Pittsburgh area that would not have been observed during regular visual inspections,” Siburkis said. “Inspections identified areas along our transmission lines that were producing excess heat, and our transmission workers were able to quickly resolve issues to prevent damage to the line and nearby equipment.

“Because increased heating is an early sign of equipment damage, thermovision and UV inspections are the most effective way to detect equipment problems in the early stages of deterioration,” he said. she declared.

Ultraviolet sensing system can identify electric shock problems caused by things like rusty hardware, loose connections, and cracked insulators.

The utility company contracts with Chesapeake Bay Helicopters and HeloAir to perform inspections in the spring and summer, so that any necessary repairs can be made before demand for electricity increases during the winter, said Siburkis.

“Infrared technology shows heat on a color scale, with brighter colors or hot spots indicating areas that might need repair,” she said. “The images can help identify problems such as loose connections, corrosion and load imbalances. “

The plane is generally traveling at 25 mph to 30 mph while the cameras are operating.

Helicopter patrols inspected nearly 2,500 miles of FirstEnergy transmission line circuits in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

The thermovision aerial inspections should be redone in four years.

Tony LaRussa is a writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, [email protected] or via Twitter .


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