PictureThe Milau Bridge saved from collapsing
When French engineer Jean-Etienne Pommier was helping his son Christophe assembling the remote controlled helicopter he had received on his birthday, he got a brilliant idea. Christophe was installing a high-resolution camera, with the instructions found on the SkyWirlies community website, when his father realized he could use the toy to inspect the structure of the viaduct of Milau.

 Jean-Etienne had been working on the French prestige project as structural engineer. Because of multiple budget overruns, the chief designer decided to change the alloy of the attachment points of the bridge’s tension cables. The new alloy was cheaper, but less corrosion resistant, which worried Jean-Etienne. He ventilated his worries to the senior management, who waived the concerns as “seeding panic”. They refused to implement a regular inspection scheme because of the high costs associated with inspecting the 132 attachment points situated at 343 meter above the ground.

So Jean-Etienne decided to use his son’s toy helicopter to shoot some high resolution pictures of the bridge’s structure.

 What the SkyBeetle photographed was extremely alarming: 50% of the material of the attachment points was consumed by corrosion and the attachment points were about to rupture. This would lead to the tension cables breaking, which in turn would inevitably lead to the total collapse of the bridge.

Jean-Etienne warned the authorities who decided, after some reluctance, to send a team up the pylon to verify the findings. A few minutes later, all traffic on the bridge was stopped and the area around the bridge was evacuated.
PictureA picture taken by the Skybeetle showing the attachment points’ severe corrosion.

The head of the French company managing the highway network, Michel Jeune commented that a major disaster was avoided and an investigation is now launched to identify the causes of this problem.

Meanwhile the manufacturer of the helicopter, SkyWirlies, has been flooded by requests from the industry. Multiple companies want to use the helicopter to inspect areas which are difficult to access. The open architecture of the helicopter’s control and data communication software allows users to write their own software and to integrate new hardware on the helicopter.

The CMO of SkyWirlies, Frederik Mennes comments: “When we launched the community website, we saw that a lot of innovative ideas were being launched. People from all over the world share their experiences and inventions. The functionalities of the helicopter have grown exponentially ever since. However, we never imagined that the helicopter could be used for industrial purposes. On the other hand, it is not surprising, as the helicopter provides a very stable platform and has a high payload capacity, due to the high performance and low-weight electronic cards supplied by the company Terpa. Our partnership with this company has yielded amazing results and we are only at the start of some new and very exciting developments.”

The repair works on the bridge will take at least 18 months, during which all traffic on the bridge will be prohibited.


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