China’s Flagship Delivery Drone Performs Double Duty as a Power Line “De-Icer”

When electric power transmission lines become coated with ice, the risk of malfunctions, breakages, cracking, decreased performance and even system breakdowns increase dramatically.  China has faced this problem for years, with provinces like Hunan witnessing power outages lasting two weeks or more due to iced power lines.  Hundreds of thousands of local residents trapped in the dark and the cold have seen their lives placed at risk while lost economic revenues typically run into the billions.  Finding a solution has become an urgent national priority.

Aerial drones, especially equipped for deicing missions, is one possible solution.  A number of China’s state-run power companies have turned to an unmanned aerial aircraft known as the “Spitfire” that lands atop power lines and heats them with a flame to melt the ice.  This method is faster, cheaper and safer than deploying ground-based deicing teams, but it’s still time consuming work.  Sophisticated logistics and communications systems are needed to attach the drones to the power lines and to remotely pilot them.  And heating the power lines with a shooting flame contains safety risks of its own.

Last month, Chinese authorities showcased a faster but far more primitive deicing method:  A heavy-lift drone, equipped with a 10-foot long hanging metal beam attached to a tether cable, flies over the power lines and proceeds to deliver a powerful slap with the beam to dislodge the ice.  The method seems crude, even reckless, but videos of the drone conducting the deicing work suggest that it works – rather efficiently, in fact.  The drone swoops down on a single transformer and systematically slaps away sheets of ice, with great precision, one power line at a time.  It takes the drone less than a minute to clear an entire set of lines, far outpacing the work of “Spitfire” drones.

And this is no specially configured infrastructure drone. It’s actually a heavy lift cargo delivery aircraft, the FlyCart 30, manufactured by DJI, the world’s leading drone designer and producer. The FlyCart 30, representing the company’s first foray into the drone delivery market, was first released last November.  It’s already begun flying across China and may soon be introduced overseas.  But now, with an additional unforeseen commercial application, the FlyCart may offer DJI still greater gains.

The FlyCart 30 turns out to be quite versatile. While ideally suited for heavy cargo deliveries – for machine replacement parts and medical supplies, for example – the drone also comes equipped with sophisticated “sense-and-avoid” technology to allow for careful maneuvering around potential obstacles – including power lines.  It’s also durable enough to fly in inclement weather and extreme sub-zero temperatures (-20 °C to -45 °C) which makes it suitable for  de-icing missions.  And the drone’s infrared thermal cameras allow it to conduct operations in low-visibility conditions, including complete darkness – allowing for round-the- lock operations, as needed.

Has DJI stumbled upon a new niche for its delivery drone?  The company is facing enormous competitive pressure in the US and Europe, and is looking to expand sales wherever it can.  It’s even taken to calling the FlyCart30 an “aerial de-icer,” in recognition of the drone’s flexibility and versatility.  The company wants to compete with other Chinese retail delivery drones at home.  With support from the Chinese government, it may be looking to take on the Spitfire.

DJI isn’t the only drone firm that is adapting itself to the de-icing mission.  Aerones, a Latvian-based UAV company, has been de-icing large industrial wind turbines since 2020.  The Aerones drone is massive in size and employs 36 propellers to lift a series of hoses that shoot warm water on the turbines.  The water hoses are tethered to a ground-based supply source that also provides continuous battery power to the drone.

In 2022, a Canada-based company also began developing a prototype de-icing drone – this one for use with fixed wing aircraft at remote airports.  While ground crews typically de-ice airplanes, use of a small aerial drone capable of servicing multiple locations could reduce their labor and infrastructure costs substantially.  Canada’s defense department is subsidizing the research in the hopes of developing a fleet of deicers for the country’s military aircraft

Some companies are also looking to adapt agricultural drones to remove ice and snow from office, warehouse and sports stadium roofs. Atlanta-based FairLifts has designed a deicing drone that sprays salt and chemicals to quickly melt ice from rooftops. The company also designs and deploys drones and helicopters for use in frost control to protect vulnerable agricultural crops.

DJI is clearly not alone.  As the drone industry continues to expand, and more players join the fray, finding double-duty applications for UAV platforms may be one way to capture additional niches — staving off the ever-rising competition for sales and market share.

ABOUT US: is a Nationwide Media Company specializing in custom Drone Videos for real estate, commercial, farms, construction, golf courses, roof inspections and more. All of our Drone Operators are fully licensed and insured. When you purchase a Drone Video Package from us, you will receive a video professionally edited, color corrected and presented to you on an SEO-Friendly webpage that you can easily share online and on Social Media with a click of a button. Click here to get started.

Previous Drone News:

Start Your Order
We Offer a Variety of Drone Video Packages
to Fit Your Needs and Budget