Now, this is a drone!

Written by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief
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Drone on exhibit at the Collins Aerospace booth at the 2019 Railway Interchange show
David C. Lester

Collins Aerospace, a technology company that provides a variety of services to commercial and business aviation, military and defense, space flight, and airports is now in the railroad business – well, sort of. They offer positive train control (PTC) solutions, rail data, and analytics services, along with other technology solutions tailored for railroads.

At this week’s Rail Interchange show in Minneapolis, one felt for a moment as though they were at an air and space museum where large airplanes and spacecraft hang from the ceiling – at least above the Collins booth. This company provides data gathering equipment for large, long-range drones that operate beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). These drones are uncrewed and operated remotely, yet the operator must be a licensed pilot – not a drone pilot, but an airplane pilot. Collins provides cameras and other data-gathering equipment for mounting on the large drones based on customer requirements. They specialize in the analysis of data (i.e., data analytics) gathered from these flights using their software which displays images, compiles data from the images, and other functionality.

BNSF is currently testing these drones on several divisions. The drone is 8 ft long, has a 12.5 ft wingspan, can operate up to 15 hours, has a cruise speed of 46 mph, weighs 95 pounds, and has a service ceiling of 14,000 ft. In railroad service, though, the drones usually fly only a few hundred feet above the ground.

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