Drones and airplanes generally don't mix, but if you're one of the airlines, you get a special pass. Airbus is replacing a time-consuming and difficult process with drones, and the results are quite neat.
Inspecting the top of an aircraft is difficult; it typically involves placing inspectors on telescoping boom arms and takes over two hours to complete. Seeking to reduce the time and difficulty of the process, the company has turned to drones. Using an autonomous drone (with human monitoring), the method takes approximately 150 images of the aircraft that are rendered into a 3D model for inspectors. The process takes only about 10 to 15 minutes to complete and saves inspectors from having to perform an otherwise tricky task. Airbus uses an AscTec Falcon 8 drone built by Ascending Technologies with a Sony a7R paired with the Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA lens. The drone also takes advantage of Intel's RealSense 3D camera for obstacle avoidance and maneuvering.
Nathalie Ducombeau, Airbus' Head of Quality, notes that the testing of the program for its A350 plane should finish by the end of 2016, with plans to continue the process on the A330 and if all goes well, an eventual expansion to the entire fleet. If you'd like to create your own 3D maps using a drone (not of aircraft, of course), check this out.