Basin Electric unmanned aerial systems team conducts training

Mark Scheele, Basin Electric chief pilot and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) program manager, training Basin Electric's UAS team in a National Institute of Standards and Technology designed training course.

Drones, technically named "unmanned aerial systems" (UAS), are playing an ever-larger role at Basin Electric. From surveying and mapping to inspection and data collection, drones have been used at many of Basin Electric's facilities.

Mark Scheele, Basin Electric chief pilot and UAS program manager, recently led Basin Electric's UAS team through a hands-on training course at Headquarters. The course is designed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as a way for drone pilots to objectively measure their flying skills. The NIST course requires the drone pilots to maneuver the drone in specific ways to see colored targets at different angles. The course is timed and scored so drone pilots can benchmark their performance.

Since safety is a number one priority at Basin Electric, the drone team is also completing online training through the Unmanned Safety Institute. Scheele says while drones can be useful tools in many situations, some still see them as toys.

"The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) views them as actual aircraft, just like the airplanes in Basin Electric's hangar," Scheele says. "If people don't take them seriously or take the time to learn the rules, it not only opens individuals and companies up to enforcement action by the FAA, but it puts the safety of the whole aviation system at risk. I've heard too many stories of people buying a drone online or at a local store and doing illegal and dangerous things with them because they don't understand the national airspace system."

Scheele stresses the importance of training with drones and keeping up with current FAA standards and regulations.

"It's easy for a person to buy a drone and put it in the air, but that doesn't mean it's legal or safe," Scheele says. "We want to make sure Basin Electric's drone program is operating to the highest standards which requires a commitment to training and education."

The Basin Electric UAS program has expanded since its inception. It now includes seven drones with capabilities that include thermal imagery and LiDAR, as well as standard imagery and video.

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