For the second year in a row Morey’s Piers has contracted the New Jersey based MISTRAS Group to complete off-season ride inspections using the Aeryon SkyRanger, a $60,000 piece of equipment that looks like a mechanical spider with four legs.
Typically reserved for oil and gas refineries, this is a relatively new technology within the amusement park industry, and one that increases the safety and efficiency of the inspection process. For years this process involved scaling entire coasters by hand or renting heavy, expensive lifts to achieve necessary access.
“Anything can happen in October, like inclement weather or cold, damp days preventing or delaying the climbing of rides,” says Joe DeLuca, maintenance planner at Morey’s Piers. “Inspections that used to take a month to complete while climbing steel tracks now only take one week and are much safer.
The eight-pound aircraft, using a built-in custom camera, provides high-resolution pictures of tight spaces, odd angles and hard-to-reach areas on rides like the Giant Wheel, which reaches 156 feet high. The photos are sent through an encrypted network to the screen of a pilot’s control unit in real time. They’re also saved to a memory card for examination later. Structural imperfections, like loose bolts or rusted welds, are flagged for repair by the Morey’s Piers grounds crew.
“We can capture the words of your beach read from 70 feet away,” says drone pilot Matt Phillips, pointing to a 30-times optical zoom. A hobby drone, like an iPhone camera, would need to be right on top to get the same shot. “It’s like looking through a telescope.”
Among the challenges of drone inspection are heavy winds (30mph is the threshold) and hawks, who can sometimes mistake a drone for prey and attempt to dive-bomb it. A co-pilot is always on site to watch out for such flight hazards. Seagulls, on the other hand? They’re cool with the tech.
“I feel like they’re impressed,” says Nick Harwood, operations manager with Aetos, the drone division of MISTRAS. “I’m told the machine was once invited by a certain seagull to share a piece of scrap pizza from the boardwalk. We do not promote fraternization during work hours.”