No Predators for Jordan

The King of Jordan, King Abdullah II, met with Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif this past week during his visit to the U.S.  King Abdullah has taken a justifiably aggressive stand against ISIS following the murder of one of their pilots and intends to respond forcefully.  Some have referred to this British and American educated King as taking on a “Clint Eastwood” stance.  He has military training, both in the UK and US, was trained to fly Cobra Attack Helicopters, and commanded Jordanian Special Forces.

I don’t know much about him other than recent news reports, but based on his résumé it is hard to doubt his sincerity.  There are also unconfirmed rumors that he intends to personally fly sorties against ISIS.

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King Abdullah (unconfirmed Twitter photo)

 

Jordan was denied the opportunity to purchase the Predator XP, General Atomic’s “export” version of the MQ-1 Predator.  Both are export controlled under the ITAR, but the Predator XP has been specially modified to meet export requirements.  It is still ITAR controlled, just not as strictly as the MQ-1.  The airframes will be controlled under ITAR Category VIII (Missile Technology), but there are going to be many internal components that are also ITAR controlled.

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The Department of State, which must authorize any exports of ITAR controlled defense articles, denied General Atomic’s request earlier this year for a DSP-5 export license to market and sell the Predator XP to Jordan. Representative Hunter wrote the Obama administration this week asking that it reconsider its denial.  Furthermore, the Senate Armed Services Committee has asked for a briefing from the Department of State on the US foreign military sales program.

I heard recently in the news that Jordan is not able to maintain the charge against ISIS indefinitely due to financial strains on the country.  They do not have the natural resources of its neighbors or an economy as developed as Israel.  Furthermore, they are financially burdened by the costs of aiding a wave of over 600,000 refugees from Syria.  Undoubtedly they need help from their neighbors and the U.S. to continue this press against our mutual foe.  The Predator is one weapon in the arsenal that can be used to fight ISIS.

Sailing UAS

Although buried under feet of snow and a skier, this cold is making me nostalgic for summer and sailing.  I cannot wait for the Volvo Ocean Race to come to Newport, RI this May, and was looking into how UAV have been used in relation to sailing.

Lo and behold, Dongfeng recently released a video shot by a drone that they launched off of their boat on a day of light winds.  I think UAS will become a boon for sail racing for a few reasons:

  1. Manned aircraft will produce too much wind disturbance to get close to sailboats.    A UAS is small enough that it won’t affect the wind on the sails.
  2. Sail racing is off-shore and hard to see.  The America’s Cup in Newport two years ago was designed to attract larger crowds by having smaller boats sail fast and close to shore.  This doesn’t work well for a long distance race.
  3. Manned aircraft cannot follow a boat on a race like the Volvo Ocean Race except near shore.  The ocean is a big place and it would run out of gas.  Dongfeng had a great idea and launching a small battery powered UAS can be done conveniently and easily.  Having seen these races, I’m not sure how anyone found the time since everyone is always so busy, but the results are great!
  4. When one is in international waters, UAS are fair game!

Newport banned UAS during the Newport to Bermuda race last year, so I’m not holding my breath for the Volvo Ocean Race, but who knows.

Here is one other video from my old haunt.  I lived in Charleston for 5 years and raced on these very same waters every Wednesday night for much of that time!

 

UPDATE Feb 6, 2015:  I spoke with Sam Greenfield, the photographer who took the video of Dongfeng.  He is from Groton, CT of all places and is the On-Board Photographer for the team.

Volcanos (again), Star Wars, and other News

Good Morning America flew a DJI drone over the erupting Bardarbunga Volcano at the northern edge of the Vatnajokull Glacier in Iceland. The pilot is part of DJI and they were a mile away from the volcano as they flew the drone over the center of the volcano. According to Iceland Magazine, the use of UAS is unregulated in Iceland, but before traveling with your drone consider the export limitations.

They got some great video from it – getting views that are next to impossible with manned aircraft due to the heat. The video says it all, so I’ll leave it at that.

A Galaxy Far, Far Away — coming to airspace near you:
Millenium Falcon
This video is going viral, but probably among a different crowd than Grumpy Cat.  A Star Wars / UAS enthusiast has build a realistic looking Millennium Falcon quadcopter.  You can check out pictures from the development and watch the first flight.  I hope its technical specs are similar to the real one, particularly when it comes to speed.

News Wrap-up
Alibaba, Asia’s largest internet company, is beginning to make test deliveries with UAS.  The tests are a one time delivery of ginger tea to volunteers. In the meantime, Amazon’s attempt to test Amazon Prime Air have made no progress.
A family member who works for Launch NY, a group dedicated to helping small businesses in Western New York succeed, informed me about the “World Cup of Drones” in the UAE on Feb 6 and 7.    There is a “Drones for Good” Competition that will net the winner $1 million (US).  You can find the semi-finalists here and put in a vote for the winner.
I posted a video of a hawk attacking a UAS the other day. A recent study by researchers published in Biology Letters determined that mallards, greenshanks, and flamingos were unaffected by drones of various shapes, sizes and colors. The only exception was when the drone approached the bird from overhead – this scared them. However, the researchers acknowledge that they did not perform any tests with birds of prey, and did not discount the videos of hawks attacking UAS.
Eight more 333 Exemptions were issued by the FAA on January 30 and February 2, 2015.  Two of the eight were amendments to entities who received exemptions in the first round.  They can be viewed on the FAA website, but are generally similar to previous 333 exemptions in terms of waivers and limitations.  The amendments were made to allow for additional aircraft types, but did not expand the scope of operations; the latter would require going through the lengthy Federal Register process.

Fire and Ice

Ice

A Canadian icebreaker, MV NUNAVIK,  became the world’s largest icebreaker when it was launched in 2014 and plies the Arctic carrying nickel ore from the Nunavik Nickel Project in Québec to Beijing.

NUNAVIK's Historic Voyage
NUNAVIK’s Historic Voyage – click on the image to read the Log Book from the passage

The ship’s captain, Randy Rose, has a daunting task – navigating through the Northwest Passage that eluded countless Renaissance and Victorian age sailors. I didn’t know the first thing about icebreaking before researching this story, but it is an art. Brute force along the most direct route is rarely the best option. An experienced captain can read the ice and will be able to discern the young ice from the more mature ice.  I understand that the mature ice appears blue while the young ice is the route to take.

The Canadian government had generally supplied Coast Guard escorts to the icebreakers, but that fleet is aging and the NUNAVIK can travel where even the Coast Guard icebreakers cannot. So Captain Rose is experimenting with drones to provide a birds-eye view of the ice ahead. He initially tried the less expensive commercial models, but they are hard to keep up in the strong Arctic winds and is going to try helium balloon mounted cameras next. You can see a corner of the UAS in an image from a Toronto Star article.

Icebreaker from Drone

This is an important project, since even a small piece of ice is the size of a Cooper Mini and is hidden below the surface. Hopefully the aerial camera will be able to see it before the Captain, because even the reinforced NUNAVIK is susceptible to ice. I wish Captain Rose success with his innovative idea, especially since his ship cost four times the price of a similar non-icebreaking cargo ship and getting stuck is costly – time is certainly money for mariners.

Fire

I’ve written about how CASA, Australia’s FAA counterpart, has been more accepting of UAS than the FAA and big news recently came out of that country about the use of an American-made UAS. Firefighters in Australia have begun to use a Lockheed Martin UAS, the Indago, to aid firefighting missions. I have a bit more experience with fire than with ice, having been a part of the investigation into the fire onboard USS MIAMI back in 2012.

Last week, the Indago was used in its first real-world fire and provided invaluable information to the teams on the ground, including the location of the fire’s edge, hotspot data, and identifying people and property that were at high risk. Unlike most COA’s and exemptions I’ve seen that have been issued in the U.S., the Indago is allowed to operate at night. At least in this fire, manned firefighting aircraft had to land at nightfall. The Lockheed article linked above shows a picture of the UAS obtaining intel from the fire at night.

Indago is a highly versatile UAS, weights 5 lbs, can fly for 45 minutes up to a 10 km range, and at 10 m is only as loud as the “hum of a refrigerator.” I’ve included a spec sheet for one version. It can operate day and night and in rough weather conditions, which is important for a drone flying above a fire.  While I am sure these are quite costly, I bet they would withstand Arctic winds well.   Lockheed Martin has announced that the autopilot is no longer ITAR controlled and therefore at least one version of the Indago is more readily available to international customers. It is still controlled under the EAR, however.  The first Indago UAS were delivered to the Heliwest Group, which provides aerial services in support of firefighting around Australia, in November 2014.

Prior to this first real-life mission, Indago underwent testing at one of the six FAA test sites at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York (I visited here as a kid and saw the then-new stealth fighter). It provided situational awareness to the ground crew as well as to an unmanned helicopter, designed to supply USMC troops in Afghanistan. The latter was able to apply about 3,000 gallons of water on the fire over the course of an hour with information from the Indago.  Hopefully it will not be long before we here in the U.S. can use this American technology in real-life emergency situations.

Drone Insurance

When I was at the test flight last week, I overheard a conversation about the strong opinions hawks have toward UAS.  It isn’t favorable either, as shown in this video that has gone viral:

I had been thinking about the topic of drone insurance for some time – it was inevitable since I am a lawyer and my wife is a specialized insurance broker.  The issue came up again when, of all people, an FAA representative asked me about the insurance aspects of UAS.

I have asked my wife, Kristen Lincoln, to provide some insight and advise regarding this topic.  She is at Gowrie Group in Westbrook, CT, but works with clients all over the country and you can email her here: Kristenl@gowrie.com.  (Updated July 2015:  We have moved due to my recall orders, so please email Kristen at Kristen.E.Lincoln@gmail.com).

An Introduction to Insurance for UAS – by Kristen Lincoln

One must consider a number of legal issues surrounding the use of UAS while reviewing and deciding upon insurance coverage. This should not be taken as legal advice – you should contact an attorney if you have legal questions and discuss your specific situation.

  • Damage to your system.  This brings up a number of issues such as:
    • Damage to the aircraft itself.  This is normally covered by a “hull policy.”  Your general policy is not necessarily going to cover damage to the aircraft, particularly while in flight.
    • Damage while in transit or while in storage.
    • Hacking.  This requires a cyber insurance policy.  Recall the recent post about Maldrone?  It was also a hot topic at the recent House hearing and industry representatives acknowledged that UAS can be hacked, just like any other system; whether to usurp the drone or to steal its data.
  • Trespass.  Before the Wright brothers introduced us to manned flight, a landowner owned the air up to heaven (“Cujus est solum, ejus est usque ad cœlum” – “He who owns the land, owns everything up to the heavens.”).  It took decades to figure out how the rule should apply to manned flight, and it is going to take time to to figure out how it applies to UAS.  In the meantime, keep up on the rules and protect yourself should someone try to sue you.
  • Invasion of Privacy.  The rules vary by state, and individuals within a given state might have a different view as well.  It doesn’t mean they’ll win if they sue you, but it means you are on the hook to defend yourself – unless you have insurance that provides for an attorney in the given situation.  California has strict anti-paparazzi law and Tennessee passed a UAS-specific law, but in New York it is generally hard to be liable for invasion of privacy. Also, recall the issue in Hammonnassett?  While this was clearly not an invasion of privacy issue, it still poses concerns.
  • General Negligence.  This covers general negligent acts and is frequently used as a legal catch-all.  Duty…Breach…Causation…Harm.
  • Professional Liability.  Are you using this commercially (FAA concerns aside)?  Keep this in mind as well to protect your professional assets.
  • Products Liability.  This is an important concern for makers or sellers of UAS.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and any insurance coverage must be tailored to the specific situation.  If your broker isn’t asking you specific details – who is flying, what you’re flying, their experience and training, maintenance, and the flight plans – you should get a second opinion.  Hopefully I’ve piqued the curiosity of UAS users and developers out there.  Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.