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Airbus looks to drones to improve aircraft inspection process

In an effort to streamline the process of inspecting its aircraft, French aircraft manufacturer Airbus has started testing the use of drones to accomplish the task. Airbus announced the news during the Farnborough Airshow in England

While drones and aircraft usually make for a dangerous combination, Airbus recently shared a video showing how drones could be of great use to the company in the future. The company announced the

Traditionally, aircraft inspections are done by human means. Inspectors walk around the aircraft and utilize small lifts to look inside the intricate nooks and crannies not viewable from the ground. This process usually takes around two hours to complete from beginning to end.

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By utilizing its custom-made drones, Airbus is able to cut that time down to 10 minutes. Not only does it save time, it could also help prevent on-the-job injuries that could occur to ground workers.

The drones Airbus uses for the inspections are AscTec Falcon 8 drones built by Ascending Technologies. They are autonomous throughout the inspection process thanks to Intel’s RealSense 3D technologies, but trained pilots keep an eye on them to ensure nothing goes wrong.

To capture the photographs for the inspection process, the drones carry a Sony a7R camera with a Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA lens attached. The high-resolution capabilities of the camera help inspectors get a detailed look at any mechanical or cosmetic defects by capturing roughly 150 images. These images are then reconstructed into a 3D model for inspectors to look over.

Currently, Airbus is testing this process on its A350 family of aircraft. Nathalie Ducombeau, the company’s head of quality, expects the company will complete its testing before the end of 2016. If all goes as planned with the first phase of testing, the drone inspections will be tested on other aircraft in Airbus’ fleet.