Unmanned aerial drones for inspection of offshore wind turbines: A mission-critical failure analysis

Mahmood Shafiee*, Zeyu Zhou, Luyao Mei, Fateme Dinmohammadi, Jackson Karama, David Flynn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)
556 Downloads (Pure)


With increasing global investment in offshore wind energy and rapid deployment of wind power technologies in deep water hazardous environments, the in-service inspection of wind turbines and their related infrastructure plays an important role in the safe and efficient operation of wind farm fleets. The use of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and remotely piloted aircraft (RPA)—commonly known as “drones”—for remote inspection of wind energy infrastructure has received a great deal of attention in recent years. Drones have significant potential to reduce not only the number of times that personnel will need to travel to and climb up the wind turbines, but also the amount of heavy lifting equipment required to carry out the dangerous inspection works. Drones can also shorten the duration of downtime needed to detect defects and collect diagnostic information from the entire wind farm. Despite all these potential benefits, the drone-based inspection technology in the offshore wind industry is still at an early stage of development and its reliability has yet to be proven. Any unforeseen failure of the drone system during its mission may cause an interruption in inspection operations, and thereby, significant reduction in the electricity generated by wind turbines. In this paper, we propose a semiquantitative reliability analysis framework to identify and evaluate the criticality of mission failures—at both system and component levels—in inspection drones, with the goal of lowering the operation and maintenance (O&M) costs as well as improving personnel safety in offshore wind farms. Our framework is built based upon two well-established failure analysis methodologies, namely, fault tree analysis (FTA) and failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA). It is then tested and verified on a drone prototype, which was developed in the laboratory for taking aerial photography and video of both onshore and offshore wind turbines. The most significant failure modes and underlying root causes within the drone system are identified, and the effects of the failures on the system’s operation are analysed. Finally, some innovative solutions are proposed on how to minimize the risks associated with mission failures in inspection drones.

Original languageEnglish
Article number26
Issue number1
Early online date1 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • Drone
  • Failure mode and effects analysis
  • Fault tree analysis
  • Inspection
  • Offshore wind
  • Reliability
  • Unmanned aerial vehicle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Control and Optimization
  • Artificial Intelligence


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