RICHMOND, Va. -- Finally, after nearly 200 years, the Richmond Diocese has its first aircraft.
The Holy Spirit 1 will be roving the diocese -- one of the oldest in the land -- scanning its 33,000 square miles and 147 parishes and numerous schools and other properties . . . for leaky roofs.
"The biggest problem we have with church today is trying to keep the water out. It's huge," said Deacon Paul Mahefky, Director of Real Estate for the Richmond Diocese. "I call it the Fifth Wall."
Holy Spirit 1 is a $2,000 drone that flies over the often aging and perilously steep roofs and steeples of the diocese's churches and other properties, filming high-definition video and photographs that the deacon can share with parish priests and roofers.
Catch a leak in time, Mahefky said, can potentially save millions of dollars in damages to rare roof structures, ornate plaster and even priceless pipe organs. Carefully monitored and repaired, the roofs and buildings below – some of them more than 100 years old – can last another century and more.
"We have more than 2 million square feet under roof that were trying to keep the water out of," he said. "And that is probably more square footage than the Atlanta airport has . . . The minute we let water in, we begin to lose the church."
Previously, the diocese had to spend $3,000 and up for each roof inspection by contractors with cranes and bucket trucks.
Now, Holy Spirit 1 sniffs out the leaks for the price of a battery charge.
Mahefky said the idea came from a friend who knew about drones and the roofing challenges faced by the diocese. He approached Bishop Francis DiLorenzo about it and got an immediate go for lift-off.
After practicing by filming football goal posts, Mahefky has been making Holy Spirit 1 prowl the lower heavens, which are below the ceiling allowed for drones by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Mahefky is an avid Chesapeake Bay sailor, so he knows how to feel the wind, move with it and keep his feet balanced while working it.
"As a sailboat becomes an extension of your body," he said, "that drone becomes an extension of you also."
The cost savings of early leak detection by drone? Millions.
The sensation of being one with Holy Spirit 1? Priceless, Mahefky believes.
Check out the video and see for yourselves.
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