Certified UAS Pilots Create Buzz at McKim & Creed
McKim & Creed’s 13 UAS (drone) pilots are as busy as bees. In just four years, they have completed 1,000+ flights, and have logged more than 300 hours of flight time.
Each of our pilots is Part 107 certified with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In addition, they all have acquired state-specified DOT permits. This allows our pilots to commercially operate drones within their respective states. “Our goal is to have licensed pilots and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) equipment in multiple offices, so we can offer this service throughout our geographic footprint,” said Tim Cawood, PLS, senior vice president and manager of McKim & Creed’s geomatics services. “With offices in North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania, and with licensed professionals in 27 states, McKim & Creed can competitively provide UAS services throughout the eastern and southern U.S.”
Best Practices for McKim & Creed’s UAS Services
Under the right site conditions, UAS provides accurate and cost-effective 3D data collection. Using that data, we can develop survey maps and computations at a fraction of the cost of conventional methods.
“Drones can cut the time and manpower needed to survey plots of a square mile or less. Moreover, we can create images with resolutions of one-half inch and accuracies of less than one-tenth of a foot. Previously, this was only available from manned aircraft,” according to Christian Stallings, CP, research and development director at McKim & Creed.
When compared with manned flights, UAS offers numerous benefits. It reduces delivery time. It is less affected by weather conditions. In many cases, it keeps survey crews out of harm’s way. Moreover, it achieves sub-5-cm data accuracy.
“Some of the best uses of McKim & Creed’s UAS are large construction projects where a lot of dirt is being moved,” Tim explained.
“UAS is becoming another tool in our truck,” added Christian.
McKim & Creed’s UAS Missions
Our 1,000+ mapping flights range significantly in size and scope. For example, McKim & Creed used 21st century UAS technology for a 19th century golf club reconstruction project in Florida. We collected the data with a quad-copter UAS equipped with a Loki positioning system. Loki is a global navigation satellite post-processed kinematic (PPK) direct geopositioning system. It is specifically designed for UAS. McKim & Creed collected data for 260 acres—with an independently tested vertical Root Mean Square Error (RMSE) of less than a tenth of a foot—in just one day. Just as importantly, UAS allowed us to protect the beauty and integrity of this historic site while gathering data.
For the Integrated Pipeline project (IPL) in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, McKim & Creed used a survey/mapping grade UAS to verify and confirm volume calculations at a 185-acre reservoir balancing site. The IPL project includes 150 miles of pipelines and six pump stations. When completed, it will save taxpayers an estimated $1 billion in energy costs.
In North Carolina, we employed UAS to resolve survey discrepancies. The developer of a master-planned community discovered problems with an elevations survey right before construction commenced. Using survey/mapping grade UAS, we flew the site in just a few hours. The following day we provided our client with:
- an updated survey CAD file of the topographic map,
- a high-resolution ortho photo,
- a classified point cloud of the bare earth, and
- a change detection analysis to compare the two surveys.
Construction proceeded on schedule with accurate elevations.
McKim & Creed’s UAS Tools
McKim & Creed was one of the first engineering firms in the U.S. to receive a Section 333 exemption/Universal Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the FAA. As such, we are early adopters and implementers of UAS technology. In addition, current Part 107 regulations allow us the flexibility to operate the latest airframes and sensors. Therefore, we can offer our clients up-to-date UAS tools to meet their specific project needs.
McKim & Creed maintains a diversified fleet of commercial-grade UAS equipment. The newest addition to our toolbox is the SenseFly eBee Plus drone, a large-coverage photogrammetric mapping system. The eBee has built-in real-time kinematic (RTK)/PPK capability. This means the system provides survey-grade accuracy with fewer ground control points. And with a confirmed real-world flight time of 59 minutes, we spend less time changing batteries and more time collecting data. For our clients, this saves both time and money. Currently, we are using the eBee to monitor construction at an energy facility.
Our UAS clients include consultants, utility companies, land developers, state and federal agencies, transportation entities, energy companies and waste management organizations.
What Makes McKim & Creed’s UAS Different?
McKim & Creed focuses on survey-grade data accuracy. Obtaining sub-5-cm absolute accuracy can be tricky when flying over rough terrain at a fixed altitude. Nevertheless, we have developed UAS systems and methodologies that enable us to provide the same accuracies our clients expect from manned flights and conventional survey methods.
And because we are professional surveyors— not drone hobbyists—many of our certified remote pilots are Professional Licensed Surveyors and Certified Photogrammetrists. This provides an added professional dimension and a heightened focus on precision and accuracy.
Another differentiator is McKim & Creed’s coupling of a traditional photogrammetric technique—stereo compilation—with low-cost hardware solutions. With this setup, we can go beyond “structure from motion” (SfM) point clouds to create survey-grade vector information. In other words, we can get straight to a survey drawing from 2D images.
Finally, market-leading processing and extraction technologies back our UAS data collection services. This allows for accurate data post-processing and calibration, effective classification and/or feature extraction, and deliverables in almost any format.
McKim & Creed’s UAS Investment
“We really feel that UAS can provide great value to our clients. And we are investing in the latest tools to remain on the cutting edge of technology,” Tim concluded.