Why Not Use Flame-Throwing Drones To Clean Up Debris On Wyoming Powerlines?

Some states are using drones equipped with a flamethrower to burn debris off power lines. This strategy isn't employed in the Cowboy State yet, but a Wyoming substation electrician says it would work well.

Mark Heinz

July 21, 20234 min read

In some areas, drones equipped with flamethrowers are used to help clear debris off power lines.
In some areas, drones equipped with flamethrowers are used to help clear debris off power lines. (Via Twitter @HowThingsWork_)

It’s an inspirational sight — a drone equipped with a flamethrower, roasting debris from a power line.

The footage leaves one longing to set up a lawn chair and sit back with some beef jerky and a cold beverage, taking in the sheer beauty of such a scene in real life, blinking through tears of joy.

An expert electrician in Wyoming said burning debris off power lines is a clever application of new technology. So, someday soon it might be possible to soak in the sight of a done-borne flamethrower clearing power lines in the Cowboy State.

“If it (debris) was stuck on normal conductors, you could absolutely do that,” Tyler Lindholm of Sundance told Cowboy State Daily.

Lindholm, a former Wyoming legislator, is quite familiar with high-voltage lines having worked for years as a substation electrician.

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Tech Is Changing The Power Business

Drones are already widely used in the electrical power business in Wyoming, Lindholm said. When they’re equipped with live-feed video cameras, drones can zoom up and check lines, poles and other infrastructure.

That saves crews from having to make strenuous and possibly dangerous climbs up power poles.

“You want to talk about saving your knees, that can really save a lineman’s knees,” he said.

Line crews also have started using infrared sensors to detect “hot spots” along power lines, again saving them from arduous visual inspections.

And they’ve even taken to using paintball guns to save themselves some climbing, Lindholm said.

“Instead of paintballs, they load the guns with greaseballs so they can lubricate high-voltage switches and disconnectors mounted on power poles,” he said. “They can just shoot them with greaseballs from the ground.”

So, adding a flamethrower drone to the arsenal available to line crews would make sense, he said.

“Anything from the paintball gun action to the done action — I think these are going to make these jobs a lot safer in the long run, but also a lot more technical. There’s a very good possibility that you’re going to operating a very expensive drone with a flamethrower on it,” Lindholm said. “I think it would be a hoot.”

Not Good In All Situations

He added that while flying flamethrowers might work for clearing metal poles or aluminum conductor lines, they wouldn’t work everywhere in Wyoming.

Depending upon the time of year, much of Wyoming is arid and full of potential wildfire fuel like dry grass and brush. And many power lines are still strung between wooden poles, Lindholm said.

“Most of the power poles in Wyoming are wooden, and those poles are treated with kerosene, which is highly flammable,” he said.

So, cutting loose with an airborne flamethrower in those situations would be a really bad idea, he said.

No, You Can’t Just Go Buy A Flamethrower Drone

As cool as the video is, folks who watch it and might be inspired to run out and buy a flamethrower drone of their own will be disappointed.

Handheld flamethrowers are legal for the general public in Wyoming.

Drone-mounted flamethrowers are another matter.

They require special licensing and are for commercial use only, Quinn Whitehead, co-owner of the Ohio-based Throwflame flamethrower company, told Cowboy State Daily previously.

“You can’t just go to Best Buy or Walmart, get one of those drones there and mount this (flamethrower) system on them,” Whitehead said.  “These are pretty sophisticated systems that require the lifting capacity of commercial-grade drones.”

Mark Heinz can be reached at mark@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter