NTSB Uses 3D Models to Investigate Incident

In the process of investigating a Feb. 2018 accident involving an air tour helicopter colliding with terrain while landing at Quartermaster landing zone in the Grand Canyon, the engineers with the National Transportation Safety Board required a 3-D digital model of the accident site and surrounding terrain.

In the process of investigating a Feb. 2018 accident involving an air tour helicopter colliding with terrain while landing at Quartermaster landing zone in the Grand Canyon, the engineers with the National Transportation Safety Board required a 3-D digital model of the accident site and surrounding terrain. The main effort involved using a FARO laser scanner, but the NTSB small unmanned aircrafts systems (sUAS) team also supported the investigation with their ability to collect imagery via sUAS and photogrammetry, according to an NTSB blog post.

The NTSB has used drones to create orthomosaic maps of accident sites and 3D digital models of terrain and vehicles for investigators to use, and the drone team has worked on a variety of incidents, including rail accidents, highway crashes, and aviation accidents.

The Grand Canyon mission, however, presented new challenges, such as obtaining permission for drone operations from various entities and planning for flight based on battery power and no wireless Internet connection. The mission was successful, though, and in just over an hour of drone flight time, the team was able to create a detailed 3-D model of the canyon and its terrain, with data that are currently being analyzed by staff on the investigation team.

The NTSB sUAS team continues to explore the applications of the sUAS imagery collection method as related to the agency’s mission.

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