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Qualitative v. Quantitative Measurements

The spot size to target distance ratio is the number one problem with respect to temperature measurement. Specification writers have not yet realized the seriousness of this problem and continue to ask for quantitative data on fault areas. The fact is that infrared cameras that are in general commercial use today cannot measure accurate temperatures on small objects from distances of 50 feet...much less from reliably safe flying distances. A one-inch (relative size of a transmission line splice) target cannot be measured from that distance, plain and simple, although it can be detected. These spot sizes are unmanageable and inaccurate on any target that does not have a large homogeneous heat signature. The ground resolution element (GRE) is critical to the measure of spatial resolution in aerial infrared thermography. Nyquist's frequency theorem states that an object less than two times the size of a sensor's GRE cannot be resolved for measurement, so a 3x3 pixel or GRE spot is needed for reliably obtaining measurements.

This shortcoming may be addressed by using a more powerful lens to reduce the GRE for a given distance, but then the sensor's FOV is reduced, limiting the area covered over a given period of time. Using a more powerful lens also has limitations because vibration is more evident in the form of image 'shaking'. Image 'smearing' may also occur due to an increase in the apparent speed of the sensor's view across the ground. In the air, there are few substitutes for a large pixel array, but even using large format detectors, we cannot and should not profess to measure temperatures on very small objects. These anomalies can be seen, and by comparing them to similarly loaded phases or equipment, potential problem areas can be identified, saved and marked on a map. For ‘good’ measurements, a ground verification team should be used to inspect suspect hot spots from the ground (cloudy nights are best) and verify the findings of the aerial IR survey. They will be closer to the target and with a powerful lens on a stable surface, much more accurate.