HexCam, a Norfolk-based commercial drone operator, is on a mission to make construction surveys safer and quicker for offshore developers.

The company is one of just six to be selected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for a “sandbox” trial scheme that aims to make Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone flights an “everyday reality”.

It will enable HexCam to control drones remotely from its base at Felthorpe Airfield, near Norwich, and carry out BVLOS flights along the onshore construction corridor of the Norfolk Offshore Wind Zone (NWOZ) on behalf of J. Murphy & Sons.

HexCam has provided aerial survey and mapping services to J. Murphy & Sons and Vattenfall (now RWE) for the past three years. It is currently carrying out monthly ‘construction progress’ surveys along the western third of the NWOZ cable corridor between Necton and the River Wensum at Elsing.

The speed at which it completes these surveys will be further enhanced by its participation in the CAA BVLOS sandbox project.

“We used to be limited to flying out just 500 metres from where we were standing. Then we’d have to pack everything down, relocate by 950m along a corridor, and do it all again,” said director Rowley Cory-Wright.

Eastern Daily Press: Rowley Cory-Wright, director of HexCamRowley Cory-Wright, director of HexCam (Image: HexCam)

With its enhanced CAA permissions, HexCam is now able to fly out to 2,500 metres as well as use a dual-pilot system that allows control to be passed between two pilots – delivering huge efficiency gains.

“We can now complete the western third of the corridor in about six hours, from only seven take-off and landing sites,” said Rowley.

A ‘visual observer’ (VO) located between the pilots helps to maintain sight of the drone, but HexCam is now testing Electronic Conspicuity (EC) devices, which sit on the drone and communicate its location to other airspace users.

As part of the BVLOS project, the company is working with project partners to develop a fixed-wing drone, which can travel further than a ‘quadcopter’ drone.

StirlingX, a GALLOS company, is providing HexCam with the Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) ‘Sparrow Hawk’ fixed-wing drone that will be conducting BVLOS flights along the NOWZ onshore construction corridor. The first short-range test flights have already been completed and will be extended in the coming months.

HexCam has also partnered with Global Drone Training to ensure its team is fully qualified to conduct BVLOS flights, while Norwich Airport is overseeing the airspace integration and helping to test Electronic Conspicuity measures.

“The ultimate goal is to fly a fixed-wing drone from Felthorpe along the NWOZ corridor, carry out a survey, then fly back and land here,” said Rowley. “It’s about making survey work quicker, safer and less obtrusive for landowners.”

For more information, visit hexcam.co.uk/bvlostrial, call 01603 327676 or email hello@hexcam.co.uk