The Sky’s the Limit with our 5 FAA-Certified UAV (Drone) Pilots

At Vertical Access, we go to great lengths—and heights—to help you gather meaningful data about your project’s site conditions. Our Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) services bring together the expertise of five FAA-certified drone pilots, architectural conservators, engineers and historians to investigate buildings and infrastructure.

Vertical Access enhances our inspections services at any height with a team of FAA-certified UAV pilots. Our pilots utilize drone technology in a number of applications ranging from reconnaissance surveys highlighting areas of concern for further investigation to flying lightweight rigging cords up-and-over structural elements to gain hands-on access.

We currently operate a fleet of DJI™ Phantom quadcopter Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or drones) to aid in the investigation of buildings and infrastructure. If hands-on access is not feasible, high resolution photographs and video taken from mounted cameras provide sharp images for conditions assessment.

Regardless of the application, our team operates in full compliance with FAA Part 107, Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations. All of our aircraft are registered and each of our TSA-vetted operators holds a Remote Pilot Certificate.

More information on our UAV Surveys is found here and in published articles including: Olson, Kristen, and Kelly Streeter, P.E. “3D Models Take Off with Drone Technology.” SWRI Applicator Magazine, Summer 2016. Download the UAV Technical Highlight here.

On Rope and In the Air at Trinity Church

Vertical Access has had the privilege of making several trips to Boston’s Trinity Church over the years in order to assist with the investigation of interior and exterior conditions. Consecrated in 1877 and situated on a prominent public square in Boston’s Back Bay, Trinity Church is considered the masterpiece of architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Today, the parish is officially known as Trinity Church in the City of Boston.

trinity boston

Trinity Church, a National Historic Landmark, is one of the finest examples of American architecture of the late nineteenth century. H.H. Richardson’s competition-winning design employs the rounded arches, deep window reveals and turret forms that are characteristic of his eponymous style, Richardsonian Romanesque. Trinity is organized as a compact Greek cross, with an auditorium-like seating arrangement beneath a massive, square central tower. The church is decorated with richly-colored interior murals by John La Farge, sculpture by Daniel Chester French and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and stained glass windows by La Farge and other leading glass designers.

A five-year restoration of the church and parish house began in 2001, directed by Goody Clancy. Work included masonry repairs at the tower exterior, improvements to life safety and mechanical systems, and restoration of the stained glass windows and interior finishes. Also as part of the project, the church undercroft and parish house basement underwent an award-winning conversion into universally-accessible meeting and classroom spaces.

As exterior work began in the spring of 2003, Vertical Access was asked to document the La Farge murals and architectural details at the interior of the central church tower. Industrial rope access was used to gain access to the tower interior, and VA scheduled the work to avoid interrupting the three daily church services. Vertical Access worked closely with Goody Clancy to capture high-quality imagery of the delicate interior finishes.

Looking down from the attic, a Boston Globe photographer captured James Banta, left, and Kent Diebolt, with camera, documenting the La Farge murals inside Trinity Church’s central tower.

Looking down from the attic, a Boston Globe photographer captured James Banta, left, and Kent Diebolt, with camera, documenting the La Farge murals inside Trinity Church’s central tower.

Vertical Access’ photodocumentation was used by the Trinity Boston Preservation Trust in their 2004 campaign to fund the restoration of Trinity’s murals and stained glass windows.

David, photographed by Vertical Access in 2003.

David, photographed by Vertical Access in 2003.

More than a decade after the interior documentation and restoration, VA returned to Trinity in August, 2016. Kelly Streeter and Kristen Olson joined Casey Williams of Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger on the tower roof to document the condition of the clay tile roof, along with the northeast turret. VA was working for SGH, who were under the direction of Goody Clancy.

From left, Casey Williams, Kelly Streeter, and Kristen Olson on the central tower in 2016, with the “world’s longest selfie-stick”. The pole-mounted GoPro camera was used to document the condition of the copper finial.

From left, Casey Williams, Kelly Streeter, and Kristen Olson on the central tower in 2016, with the “world’s longest selfie-stick”. The pole-mounted GoPro camera was used to document the condition of the copper cross and stanchion atop the tower.

VA’s latest visit took place in September, when Kelly and Kristen participated in the Documentation Technologies Workshop presented by the Northeast Chapter of the Association for Preservation Technology. The event brought together an international audience for presentations and demonstrations of cutting-edge technology used in the documentation and characterization of historic structures.

Kelly and Kristen presented “Drones: The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown”, an overview of the applications for drones in building documentation, the potential for drones to augment hands-on inspections, available drone hardware and accessory technologies, and current FAA regulations. We followed the presentation with a live demonstration of our new drone, a DJI Phantom 4, inside the church sanctuary.

Left, a live feed video stream of the interior murals as they are captured by the drone, at right.

Press Release – DOT and FAA Finalize Rules for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems

WASHINGTON – Today, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration has finalized the first operational rules (PDF) for routine commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or “drones”), opening pathways towards fully integrating UAS into the nation’s airspace. These new regulations work to harness new innovations safely, to spur job growth, advance critical scientific research and save lives.

Source: Press Release – DOT and FAA Finalize Rules for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Exploring 3D Photogrammetry

Dozens of software options are available for stitching photographs into scaleable, 2D mosaics or 3D models. We’ve been experimenting with a few different platforms for generating 3D models using footage captured by our DJI Phantom UAV (drone) or by technicians on the ground.

In the example below, the photogrammetry software could not accurately render the metal roof of our shed because the photos used to create the model were taken by a person on the ground. Achieving a higher angle of view, for example, by using a UAV, the software would have created a more complete model. This 3D model was built using only 51 images.

shed point cloud

3D model created using photogrammetry

Some programs can output a 2D elevation or plan extracted from the 3D model, which can be used to create scale drawings with centimeter accuracy.

orthorectified image generated from a 3D model

orthorectified 2D image generated from a 3D model

These outputs can be used as background drawings for a hands-on survey using TPAS, or to take measurements of inaccessible features such as antennas or finials.

This fly-through of a barn is of a 3D model created where the green line represents the flight path of the UAV and the dots represent the locations of where photographs were taken.  Enjoy the drone’s-eye view: