Drones Taking RF Testing To New Heights

Broadcasters typically think of unmanned drones in television as aerial newsgathering platforms, but as nearly 1,000 U.S. broadcasters prepare to relocate to new channel assignments some may soon begin rethinking the role drones play in television broadcasting.

On May 5-6, LS telcom of Bowie, Md., used its specially designed and equipped drone to conduct signal strength measurements of two Dallas-area stations from the antenna farm at Cedar Hill, Texas, about 17 miles southwest of the city center.

The testing, which validated the horizontal and vertical transmission patterns of a newly installed antenna, is believed to be among the first uses of a drone to conduct TV antenna validation testing in the United States.

“While this is the first measurement we have made in the United States, LS telcom through its subsidiary Colibrex has measured over 800 different frequencies at a variety of sites in 15 different countries,” says Casey Joseph, VP of LS telcom.

Using a drone for the tests was done in place of more conventional methods that are more time-consuming and expensive, he says.

“In a day or two, we can come in and give broadcasters a very good idea of how their new equipment is operating,” Joseph says.

“Typically, these signal strength tests consist of taking measurements at hundreds of points throughout the coverage area [with bucket trucks] and then working that data backwards through a propagation analysis to determine the transmission pattern of the antenna,” he says.

“With our UAS [unmanned aircraft system] broadcast measurement drone, we are able to come in and get a very accurate measurement that is close in to the tower.”

Joseph declined to identify the Dallas stations because of a nondisclosure agreement with the broadcaster.

For the Cedar Hill test, the LS telcom flight crew measured the horizontal and vertical components of the stations’ antenna signals from an altitude of about 1,500 feet.

The flights were done with a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration of its Part 107 rules, which normally impose a ceiling of 400 feet for…

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