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Powerful Living


Flying By Mary Logan-Wolf T


hree years ago, Dennis Krueger attended a meeting looking for jobs for western Oklahoma. He came away with an even loftier notion—drones. That day Krueger caught wind of a budding Oklahoma industry devot- ed to the research, development and use of unmanned aerial vehicles


(UAVs). UAVs, or what most folks refer to as “drones,” are considered by many to be the


most innovative development in aviation since Orville and Wilbur Wright. The space-age airships come in all shapes; looking like hybrid helicopters, paper air- planes, alien spacecraft or something a child built out of Legos. One thing they all have in common: no pilot. UAVs are controlled by an operator on the ground or, in some cases, are preprogrammed to fl y on their own. Captivated by what he learned that day—and in subsequent meetings with leaders


in UAV research in Oklahoma—Krueger realized the potential for drones to play a signifi cant role in the future of many industries. A leader in rural development circles, at the time Krueger served as general manager of Kiwash Electric Cooperative in Cordell, Okla. He retired from his position in January 2016. “I could easily see that rural electric distribution and transmission could use this


technology, as well as oil and gas pipelines, agriculture crop surveillance and storm destruction surveys in the tornado belt,” Krueger recalls. Furthermore, he thought western Oklahoma’s wide-open skies might provide an excellent UAV testing ground, perhaps creating a welcome uplift in the rural economy.


In 2013, Kiwash Electric owned and maintained over 3,000 miles of power line. “That’s the equivalent of driving from Weatherford to Washington, D.C. and


CREC, based in Stillwater, Okla., has added ATVs and UAVs to its fl eet to assist line crews in restoring outages more quickly. Photos by Larry Mattox/CREC


6


back, and we had to patrol all that,” Krueger recalls. “It doesn’t take much to realize that one UAV in the air inspecting those lines would be much faster, easier and safer than driving it.” It also saves money. By Krueger’s estimate, a drone could have saved his co-op roughly $25,000 per year in line inspection costs alone. When weighed with UAVs’ other operational gains, electric co-ops across the nation are taking notice. Last year, Krueger carried his fi ndings to the National Rural Electric Cooperative


Dreams


Can drones help co-ops patrol remote right of ways?


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