Six years ago, he walked into a manager’s meeting, dropped a drone on the desk and said, "This is the future."
His name is Stephen Dorsett, but they call him “Stix” due to his uncommonly thin build which caused many to doubt his ability to make it in the lineman profession. Today, he has not only achieved Journeyman Lineman status, but is a Contract Coordinator who pushed for the use of drones at Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL), an AES company with approximately 100 linemen.
In 2012, the recreational drone market had just kicked off and Dorsett took personal interest. As a long-time RC enthusiast, Stix was exposed to quad copters through his local AMA club. Stix was able to learn the basics of drone flying thanks to his experience as an RC pilot and hobbyist friends. After honing his skills at the AMA field, Stix began to see the opportunities that this new technology could offer his company.
In 2013, Horizon came out with the Blade 350qx which you could pair with a GoPro. That’s when Dorsett bought his first drone setup.
The first setup Dorsett used - Blade 350qx with GoPro attached - still rests in his office.
At that time, there were still no rules for commercial drone use as the FAA had just passed The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which required that the FAA establish regulations to allow the use of commercial drone flights by 2015, a whole three years away.
Still, with his shiny new toy in hand, Dorsett brought his Blade to work of his own accord and started using it for odd tasks here and there. He’s used the drone to help with painting projects, conduct lineman training, take pictures for the Safety Council, perform substation upgrades, fiber optic jobs, spot checks from the side of the road, and more.
“One of the most valuable things the drone does is allow us to inspect infrastructure without having to shut it down,” Dorsett explains. “This saves us hazardous manhours, improves turnaround time by several days, and eliminates paperwork.”
Stix was pleased to help establish the drone’s value to the organization and to be honing his skills in the process.
While Dorsett was busy in Indiana, work was already underway across a number of AES facilities to incorporate drones into energy operations. In 2015, AES began an initiative to scale the use of drones throughout the company’s operations…and Stix got his first DJI drones - the Inspire 1 and a Phantom 4 Pro.
As part of its global program, AES partnered up with Measure, a leading provider of drone services, to support the initiative and provide guidance, training, and support for the establishment of AES' internal drone program, which incorporates both in-house pilots and third-party providers for drone operations across many applications in energy.
Because of his early mastery of drone technology, Stix played a vital role in the development of the global program, providing guidance for training, helping to develop use cases and inspection methodologies, leading and supporting other AES businesses, and being an evangelist for the use of drones in the power industry.
Measure running a drone training course for AES pilots in Chile.
As the larger AES program was getting underway, Dorsett got his Part 107 pilot license. He took three weeks (including weekends) to lock himself in a room and study before taking the exam. He advises other aspiring pilots that it is not something to take lightly, especially if you have no prior flight experience. Dorsett recommends that companies who would like to motivate employees to get their license should offer paid time for study since it is a significant undertaking.
It was also during this time that Dorsett met Andy Justicia, Lead Pilot for Measure, who took Dorsett on his first official project and showed him some new tricks.
Andy Justicia, Measure's Lead Pilot for Training and Standards, stands behind trainees from IPL.
“Andy showed me the best way to do things,” Stix says. “I had been reading the manual and figuring things out piece by piece, but learning hands-on from Andy who has flown so many of these types of missions - and making the connection to the data analysis - made everything come together so much more quickly.”
Today, Dorsett is one of two licensed uav pilots at Indianapolis Power & Light. He says he receives several requests each week for the drone and is grateful for AES’ commitment to innovation and technology, which has brought his vision of using the drone on-site to life.
“It’s another tool in the toolshed,” Dorsett says enthusiastically. “We have power tools that cost three times as much as the drone, and yet, we use the drone more frequently. It’s a no-brainer to have a drone and a couple of licensed pilots.”
Dorsett has even helped Andy train workers from other AES sites around the country, an experience he says has been very rewarding.
“To go from using my own drone here and there to helping train several pilots for other locations has been very special,” he beams.
AES’ global drone program now has 120 licensed uav (unmanned aircraft vehicle) pilots and 50 aerial drones in operation. In 2017, the wide-reaching program delivered more than $4.6 million in financial benefits and saved more than 24,000+ hazardous manhours globally.
Dorsett has big expectations for the future of drone technology. He dreams of a drone that locks onto an electromagnetic field so that when it flies, it would follow the line of electricity autonomously.
And since Stix has a solid record of being at the forefront of trends, we’re not betting against his prediction.
To learn more about how drones are being used in utilities and other energy sectors, check out The Case for Drones in Energy.