The life of a Cyberhawk drone pilot

07 Dec 2017



What is life really like for a Cyberhawk UAV pilot? What is it like to leave the comfort of your home to work in the middle of the sea, inspecting flares and platform underdecks, or in the remote Scottish Highlands flying around high voltage pylons?


Cyberhawk is the industry leader in UAV inspection and survey as a result of our mature operating procedures, deep industry knowledge and vast level of experience. Our most experienced pilots are globetrotting around the world most of the time, completing challenging projects for major energy companies.


Picture working 14 days straight in extreme temperatures, on the other side of the world, then returning home for a few days, to change equipment and get back on the road again. This is the typical working life for a pilot or inspection engineer.


The life of an international traveller has its pros and cons; commuting is the biggest source of complaint, as well as the offshore food (apart from Italy apparently), but riding camels in desert sand dunes near Qatar is one of the many highlights.


‘’When I tell people what I do for a living, those with no knowledge of drones always remark on what an exciting life I must lead’’, Calum, one of our most experienced pilots, says.


‘’However, it is hard work due to strict safety procedures, long days and the added pressure of flying close to dangerous and very expensive assets. Having said that, it’s given me the opportunity to see so many exciting places in the world. From Africa to the Middle East to the US, I’ve experienced so many different cultures and adventures that would normally take a lifetime.’’


Calum has been with Cyberhawk for over five years and as a level four pilot, with multiple qualifications and extensive training, he has completed some of Cyberhawk’s most exciting and demanding projects around the world.


Pilots like Calum who have to fly a drone close to high voltage powerlines, offshore flares and wind turbines, for example, require specific training and experience.


Cyberhawk’s industry leading internal training programme produces highly experienced pilots because our training philosophy operates on a four-tier system, based on training and gaining site experience. Like every other Cyberhawk UAV pilot, Calum had to start by gaining basic UK CAA qualification or equivalent, and initial in-house ground instruction and flight training.


As a Cyberhawk pilot, having a CAA/FAA drone pilot licence is not enough training to be able to complete complex industrial inspections – you also receive extensive in-house training which equates to hundreds of UAV flights.


As he progressed through the training programme, each level allowed Calum to execute more difficult tasks in increasingly difficult environments. The programme culminates in our Level four pilots being able to confidently and successfully perform advanced inspections in complex environments, such as offshore.


The reason for this extensive training is to allow a Cyberhawk pilot to confidently and safely fly a UAV close to a structure in an industrial environment and high-quality imagery. This allows our engineers to conduct a detailed inspection on the condition of the structure.


Flying in industrial environments means being close to large metallic structures or high voltages.  The pilot must be able to fly the drone fully manually, without flight assist features such as GPS, as they may not work in these extreme environments.  Combining this with extreme weather conditions near wind farms or offshore means expert precision is required when flying.


Teamwork is also incredibly important, especially when the pilot and engineer have to spend a lot of time together, make important decisions, and work under pressure, all under the watchful eye of a client.


‘’You must be able to get on with people because you’re spending half your life with some of your colleagues, most of whom I’m lucky to have become friends with. You need be able to mix it with all types of personalities, to know the strengths and weaknesses of these people and to build good relationships with them. The Cyberhawk team is very close-knit and we really do enjoy working together, which makes the job all the easier”, Calum says.


“At the same time, the rewards are amazing. As well as the travel, the variety of the job is exciting as no two projects are ever the same. I’m also working with some of the world’s experts in this field so the opportunities to continue learning are endless. It’s great to be kept so busy thanks to the fast-paced nature of the job, however it makes you really appreciate the downtime when it eventually comes!”


Cyberhawk is the world’s leading engineering company using drones for aerial inspection and surveying and a pioneer in the development of innovative visual asset management solutions. Cyberhawk created the UAV industrial inspection market in 2008 and has since completed more than 25 UAV inspection world firsts and assignments in in more than 25 countries. Headquartered in the UK, with offices in USA, Middle East and SE Asia, Cyberhawk conducts close visual and thermal inspections of industrial assets onshore and offshore with results delivered through an innovative visual asset management software platform, iHawk.