Flame Throwing Drone is Actually Useful

A team in Xiangyang, China is using a flame-throwing drone to clear debris from high voltage power lines. These lines are made of metal of course, and are impervious to the high heat of the flames. Any type debris that gets on the lines will be charred to a cinder in just a few seconds. This is all is quite a bit safer than sending a human with some type stick up there near the high voltage lines.

Over the years here at Hackaday, we’ve seen people attach some strange things to drones. We can all recall the drone with a real firing pistol. And how about that drone with the huge flamethrower trying to cook a turkey. And let’s not forget the drone that fires bottle rockets.  [Caleb Kraft] did a write-up about hacking the AR drone years ago and mentioned that someone put an Estes-rocket on a drone.  While all of these are incredibly dangerous, ill-advised and for the most part useless, this new power line clearing drone may be the first exception we’ve seen.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen someone put on a drone?

Thanks to [Hans-Christian Mose Jehg] for the tip!

39 thoughts on “Flame Throwing Drone is Actually Useful

      1. depending on voltage, current, internal resistance and AC vs DC the power source may be able to sustain a plasma discharge in air…

        I can imagine this works if the different phases are separated far enough from each other that this can be done safely, but there is of course the issue of debris close to the relatively small isolating mounting point at the grounded tower or pole…

    1. I doubt the wire got enough heat from this treatment for any issues. The conductors are most likely aluminum around steel, the steel for tensile strength. The short bursts, good cooling, poor thermal contact between the outer and core layers, and heat sinking by the outer layer likely kept the steel well below annealing.

  1. I have strong doubts about this video, although it look real and moves like you expect a drone would there is no appropriately sized tank to hold the large amount of fuel used for the burner, a burner that seems quite powerful mind you.

    1. Without knowing the size of the drone, it is tough to address this conclusively, but, estimating the done to be about 1m across (a not-unusal size for an 8 rotor these days), the thing that the wand is sticking out of could be a commercial butane can with a small solenoid valve. The flame has the look of burning fat, as if it is raw fuel from the nozzle, with little to no air infusion prior to the nozzle, which would be and there appears to be a small pilot flame, both of which support my suspicion.

      1. Looks more like it’s a liquid of some sort. And the size has its limitations since we see the thickness of the wires.
        Also the size of the drone doesn’t matter too much anyway because I’m judging the size of the flame vs the size of the drone.

        I stick with dubious on this one.

        1. You can easily get a flame that size with a lighter and a can of WD-40 or similar flammable aerosol. There’s no question that a large drone would be able to carry the pound or so of hardware required to pull this off.

          It might only have thirty seconds of burn time before needing to refuel, but that’s not a problem for this use case.

          1. But you can also easily make a fake video.. and it would not be the first time.
            Mind you the Chinese do seem to like fire as a solution. Remember that military flamethrower vs wasp nest video?

          2. Incidentally, that smoke you see coming from the flame is one of the reasons I think it’s some liquid, as you say some sort of WD40. I don’t think propane and such gas creates such smoke (I’m no expert though). And the smoke seems present regardless of the debris being hit. And flamethrowers generally rely on a compound to contain the flame and give it range I think.

    1. I have seen in the pages of Nat Geo in Eastern countries, vegetation growing in impossible places above ground. The stuff is not unlike spanish moss in the southern states. If a little bit gets started it builds up holds water when it rains and becomes it’s whole ecosystem.

      A drone like this could wash dirty insulators. Most importantly they could sniff out sources of RFI much quicker than from on the ground. This could be ??? done independently of your power company, informing them first them giving them the results to follow up. I had a bad case of RFI years ago. 3 employees of the power company came and listened to my tuner and the noise. They tripped off whole blocks and could not find the source. Just a waste of our time.

  2. This is actually a really shitty implementation of a reasonable idea, fire is the dumbest and most obvious option. Heat like that can change the metallurgical characteristics of metals, such as tensile strength. It would have been much more elegant to use a chemical reaction such as catalysed hydrogen peroxide to produce super heated steam because you could control the temperature much more accurately and the jet geometry would be much more controlled too. Inject a non-flammable solvent into the stream for a very clean result without any carbon deposits that melt at temperatures that are higher than any metal! See that bracket, what if they just effectively glued the bolts on and now it can’t be serviced?

    1. For precipitation hardened aluminum alloys you don’t run into hardening issues up until 400 degrees for several minutes, and even that is minimal.

      And if it is common steel cored cable they would use a soft aluminum alloy that has a higher conductivity, which can’t even be heat treated.

      If you heat the wires up to the extent that it matters you are doing it wrong anyway. And as for safety, your way is far worse.

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