A Day in the Life of a Drone Pilot: Offshore Drone Inspection

RUAS have been involved in a number of onshore and offshore drone inspections for years, ranging through a number of aircraft and procedures. Most inspections that require an aerial vantage point have often been completed by rope access teams, providing images from up-close to asset damage or corrosion, all valuable information for any inspections team.

However, a lot of the time for inspecting certain structures such as flare boom, rope access teams need to operate in during what’s called a platform shut-down, in order for the work to be made as safe as possible. And this is where drone inspection really comes into its own.

Beginning with the Ascending Technologies Falcon 8, this was RUAS’ staple aircraft in this environment for a long time, given its triple internal redundancies. This helped battle the inevitable electro-magnetic interference that was so prevalent in such a harsh environment, meaning a manual take-off, especially one where it was hand-launched by an observer, was still within control of the pilot.

Offshore Survey

Despite this approach, there were various obstacles, the most prominent of which was battery life. Low flight time meant a lot more time ensuring safe take-off and landing and less time collecting data, but on most platforms, Lipo batteries are considered hazardous, and must be changed within the aircraft in a safe area, eating into a lot more of a pilot’s time and energy, as an oil or gas platform has an incredible amount of stairs and gangways.

So when the opportunity to use DJI aircraft arose it was a great chance to see what kind of data could be captured and how that could affect the way we work. Starting with the DJI Matrice 210 RTK, it quickly became a lot more noticeable as to the aircraft’s stability in flight (thanks in particular to the RTK system), substantially longer flight times, and the range of sensors available.

This last aspect has been particularly impactful, not simply because of the reliable quality of the imagery captured, but because a dual gimbal can be utilised, or even an overhead one attached to the top of the aircraft, allowing all possible angles and features to be captured in high-definition and zoom.

A drone shot displaying the underside of Siri Oil rig during an offshore drone inspection.


But even this was short-lived before it was outstripped by the new enhanced industry breaking standard of the DJI Matrice 300 RTK. Not only does it still effectively use the RTK system to safely circum-navigate the hazardous environment and all the issues surrounding electro-magnetic interference, but sets a new standard in commercial multi-rotor flight time, levelling out at about 50 minutes.

And then finally, we see the quality of available sensors being elevated again. With the M300’s standard camera (the Zenmuse H20) able to capture data with a 200x optical zoom lens as well as wide angle shots simultaneously, eliminating the need for two sensors at the same time. But now, with the addition of the long awaited L1 and P1 sensors, the standard has been exponentially elevated.



Flareboom Survey

The use of unmanned aircraft in these kinds of environments is to help employers and companies eliminate risk to their workers, and with oil and gas platforms especially, this becomes incredibly relevant. But with multi-purposing of drones and new aircraft, platforms can safely carry out inspections that no longer risk worker safety or compromise on a platform-wide shutdown, changing the nature of offshore operations for the immediate future.

For more of an idea of what we kind of things RUAS has achieved within the oil and gas industry, click here for our Lidar and data capture inspection with Shell UK.


Liarne Fox

March 01

An airborne drone during a GVC transition training course.

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