Unique inspection flight by drone equipped with transponder

NLR has for the first time in the Netherlands equipped a small drone with the same kind of transponder as used in manned commercial aircraft. A transponder allows air traffic controllers to track the drone’s position in the air. Air Traffic Control Netherlands (Luchtverkeersleiding Nederland, LVNL) has made use of a transponder mandatory for flights in airspace controlled by an airport.

Drone operator Dutch Drone Company (DDC) has already successfully inspected an operational flare installation at a Shell Pernis production site thanks to technical support from NLR. Using a drone for such an inspection eliminates the need to halt production as normally required for a manned inspection. The drone significantly reduces costs, causes less environmental burden and improves safety. NLR Project Leader Jan-Floris Boer said: “This drone inspection flight was unique because with a transponder it was now possible to fly in an area under the control of an airport. The sector is now working together with LVNL on the next steps. This will clear the way for even more drone applications relevant to society.”

The DDC drone is an Ascending Technologies Falcon 8 Octocopter with a take-off weight of 2.3 kilograms. A commercially available transponder was fitted together with an antenna designed specifically for this drone. After integration of the transponder system, various tests were carried out, both on the ground and in the air. The test flights and technical inspection of the modified drone (with an increased take-off weight) were conducted at the Netherlands RPAS Test Centre (NRTC), which is part of the NLR organisation.

NLR has been accredited by the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment as a Qualified Entity for conducting technical inspections prior to the issue of a special Certificate of Airworthiness.