Aerial Gas Leak Scanner For Pipelines (And Cattle?)

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As technology advances, new ways are found to make practical use of a small airborne platform in the sky. One of the latest we've heard of is inspecting underground pipes. A sensor developed by ITT Industries can detect leaking natural gas from the 2.3 million miles of pipeline in the U.S. The amount lost to leakage each year is considerable -- enough to fuel 4 million homes, The Associated Press reported Monday. The detector uses three lasers that pulse to the ground and back 1,000 times a second, with the airplane flying along at 750 feet and 135 mph, following a computer-laid course directly above the pipe. The detector can sniff out the errant fume of escaping gas ... although it does sometimes accidentally record instead the methane released by flatulent cows. Engineers now are working on ways to accomplish the monitoring by satellite, but for now, the humble single-engine airplane or light helicopter does the job best.