The Marc Basnight Bridge spanning Oregon Inlet is the first bridge in the state to be inspected for safety using a drone.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation used the tool to for the first time this week to inspect the bridge as part of the regular biennial inspection process, officials said Thursday.
Inspection crews monitored live high-definition video feeds from the drone as it was flown around the bridge’s 10 largest columns, looking for any potential defects that would require further action.
The drone used for this inspection, a Skydio 2, is equipped with detect-and-avoid technology that allows it to operate within a foot of the bridge structure without risk of crash.
NCDOT intends to use drones to conduct bridge inspections faster, which officials said would save money and reduce the need for lane closures.
“Drones will not replace a traditional visual inspection in most instances. However, they will be used to supplement traditional inspections and add great benefit by being able to inspect areas of the bridge that are difficult to reach during a traditional visual inspection,” NCDOT said.
A waiver granted to NCDOT in 2020 by the Federal Aviation Administration allows the department to operate drones beyond visual line of sight when inspecting bridges. This lets the operator fly the drone around pillars, between girders, and even inside columns.