BREAKING NEWS- DC Cir Overturns FAA Registration Requirement$file/15-1495-1675918.pdf


More to follow but in short the court ruled that the FAA violations section 336 of the 2012 FAA Modernization Act by promulgating a rule on model aircraft. They didn’t buy the FAA’s argument that is was ending “regulatory discretion” not to require full blown registration.


Taylor argued the case pro se!

AUVSI – more announcements

Some more XPONENTIAL 2017 announcements that I’ve been tracking from a distance.  Both are followups on products I’ve written about previously – Aerovironment multiple times and the Wave glider from XPONENTIAL 2016 in the Big Easy.

Why the ski banner?  While, XPONENTIAL 2018 will be in Denver, Colorado.  I’m a big fan of skiing, and April 30 is still the tail end of ski season…(Disclaimer: I’m not advocating the use of UAS over ski areas.  Please respect property rights and make sure you are flying safely and IAW FAA regulations).
AeroVironment announced Snipe, which is says “is designed specifically to provide dismounted troops with immediate organic tactical overwatch – over the wall, down the alley, around the hill. Weighing less than 5 ounces, this foldable air vehicle requires no assembly and can be out of the case and operational in less than 60 seconds.”  Access the Data Sheet here.  While announced at XPONENTIAL, this nano UAS won’t be available until the fall.
Wave Glider, made by Liquid Robotics (which has since last year become a Boeing subsidiary), has expanded capabilities, based on their interview with Jane’s   This is an unmanned maritime vehicle, but given my background and the technology, I couldn’t help writing about it!

AUVSI 2017

For the first time since I founded Duke of Drones, I won’t be at AUVSI’s Xponential due to other commitments.  However I’m tracking the updates and looking forward to the news to come out of the conference.

Lockheed Martin has announced Indago 3 this week.  I reported on an earlier version of the Indago when it was undergoing testing for use in firefighting.

Improvements include:

  • Improved propulsion technology for reduced noise signature and extended flight time (50 minutes) / 10 km);
  • Military-grade encrypted and secure data link;
  • Secure, mesh capable video dissemination across multi-node networks and
  • Extended range radio for long distance operation at low-flight altitudes.

It uses the TW-600 Ocelot by TrellisWare for Tactical Scalable Mobile Ad-hoc Network (MANET) or TSM to provide reliable communications in harsh environments, but which clearly has ITAR implications.

The Indago has evolved from a firefighting UAS to a mobile, military grade tool in only a few years!

What else do we expect out of AUVSI?  I’ve heard rumors that the FAA might announce something regarding BVLOS, and that’s what I’d place my bets on.

Why do I say that?  While, check out the FAA Safety Briefing (May/June 2017).  It’s all about UAS, which is likely not-so-coincidentally timed with Xponential.  Check out the topics and you can see what is front and center for the FAA – Integration!  There are also articles on registration, part 107, and how to find a “DroneZone,” all of which have integration lying close beneath the surface.

This is great news, in my opinion.  We obviously want UAS integrated into the NAS – that’s the only way they’ll ever be able to operate effectively in populated areas, near airports, and around low-flying helicopters.  As people adapt to 107 and it proves its worth, I think the next piece is BVLOS – one person per aircraft.  Then swarms are the next step.  Swarms within VLOS aren’t really that big, so let’s get BVLOS down and we’re making some real progress!


Erie Canal by UAS

In local Rochester news, a photographer named Adam Hudson took aerial shots of the Erie Canal being filled. 

Check out the video here – it’s taken at Locks 34 and 35 (between Rochester and Niagara Falls).

Lock 32 in Pittsford, NY, February 2016

With my boys on an unseasonably warm day in February 2017, Pittsford, NY overlooking a drained canal.

A full canal at peak fall color, Pittsford, NY

Flattest 15 miles my wife and I have ever run, but beautiful day, October 2016.

Here are a couple of photos that I’ve take on the Erie Canal – in Rochester it’s actually the larger and more modern “Barge Canal,” which is drained for the winter.


NASA’s X-37B

One doesn’t typically think of spacecraft as UAS, but they are.  Most are one way, but an X-37B just returned to earth after two years in space.

The Boeing X 37B, an unmanned space orbiter that looks like a small version of the space shuttle, returned from a 718 day secret space mission that began back in May 2015.  It apparently created a sonic boom as it came into Cape Canaveral for a landing.  It is launched using United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket.

Legislative and Pizza Updates

There has been good news coming out of state legislatures.

  • I’ve been tracking the progress of a bill in my old state of Connecticut, which would have allowed law enforcement to use weaponized UAS.  Yesterday it died in committee.  I am all for law enforcement being provided the tools to do their job, but UAS are powerful and we as a society are still learning how to effectively incorporate them into ouThere has been good news coming out of state legislatures.
  • Toms River, New Jersey tabled a proposed ordinance which would have required UAS operators to register and pay a $70 annual fee. It would have prohibited UAS operations below 400 feet in the following locations and over beaches when lifeguards are on duty, dunes, residentially or commercially zoned areas, any roads, or over government or public buildings, property, or parks.  Law enforcement agencies and legitimate scientific researchers would have been exempted and use at events would have been authorized with permission of the organizer and notice to attendees.  My concerns are two-fold.  First, we need to avoid a hodge-podge of broad local and state ordinances.  I’m not opposed to local ordinances relating to specifically local concerns (i.e.: beaches during lifeguarded hours and protected dunes), but the FAA needs to be allowed to develop a coherent national system.  Secondly, the ordinance, as proposed, is overbroad.

The FAA and the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) issued a joint report on the severity of UAS impact on humans, specifically in comparison to an impact with wood or steel. They conclude: “Results strongly suggest RCC-based thresholds are overly conservative in terms of injury potential because they do not accurately represent the collision dynamics of elastically-deformable sUAS with larger contact areas in comparison to the inelastic, metallic debris that occurs following the in-flight break up of high-speed missiles found on the national test ranges.”  In short, UAS impacts do not transfer as much energy to humans due to their elastic nature (editorial note:  I still wouldn’t want one to fall on me).

I saw another article regarding the pizza drone incident. This author didn’t appear as amused by the article or it having been picked up by mainstream media. I don’t agree with his premise, though. A journalist should fact-check an article to ensure it is accurate, whether it be a satire or allegedly real article. On the surface, it should have raised some red flags (for example, the speed at which the case moved through court was shocking as well as the fact that the docket number did not appear on the Merrimack Superior Court’s publically accessible website).

Pizza Delivering Drones?

I write today from an undisclosed Caribbean island, but am headed back to Virginia shortly.  I start on a light note with a short video and story from Australia, where a UAV operator spotted a shark near some surfers and warned them of the danger.  The water is crystal clear, as you can see!

Drone Catches Shark Lurking

My last post discussed the issue with a commercial filmed near the state capitol in Hartford, CT.  As I’ve stressed repeatedly – and focussed on at length in a law school class I taught on UAS – understanding airspace rules is one of the most important aspects of flying a UAS.  To that end, the FAA is developing tools for UAS operators such as the UAS Data Deliver System and a website to request an Airspace Waiver/Authorization under 14 CFR 107.  Jim Moore of the AOPA discusses this in more detail in an article entitled FAA Begins Drone Map Release.

A friend and colleague, Jon Rupprecht, wrote a great article about how airspace and other issues will affect pizza delivery and Amazon Prime.  It’s a great article and I encourage you to read it.  He discusses the various airspace impediments to simple neighborhood delivery.  In the end, it will be up to the FAA to develop a system that allows for delivery in restricted airspace, in populated neighborhoods, and most importantly with the use of “swarms” (i.e.: multiple UAS launched and controlled by a single operator).  He shows a map of Phoenix and illustrates how Amazon Prime will have trouble delivering in the areas around its distribution centers in Phoenix based on current airspace rules.

I’ll end on a light note with a story from Randy Spencer’s Open Mike.  NOTE: THIS IS SATIRE AND NOT A REAL CASE! Entitled The Flying Trapizza: Court Addresses, For The First Time, CGL Coverage For A Drone, it chronicles an insurance carrier that denied coverage for a pizza place in New Hampshire when a pizza released early during a drone delivery and landed on someone’s Tesla and then hit his face.  The insurance company denied coverage under its aircraft exclusion and the case went to “trial.”

I spent hours looking for information about this case after seeing what appeared to be a legit article about it in Forbes (it has since been removed after the author presumably realized it was not a real case, this is the cached version from Google).  I couldn’t find anything, and finally emailed the author of Coverage Opinions, who told me my legal research class wasn’t in vain.  I give him credit for a vivid imagination and for writing a fictional case that conveys some serious issues relating to UAS.  While satire, it does highlight what I’ve said about ensuring you have appropriate insurance coverage.  Great article and good takeaways, even if satire!

News Round-up

I have a lot of news to catch up on, so here are a few stories on varying topics of interest.

Has DJI joined the fight against ISIS?  Reports indicate software updates have made parts of Syria and Iraq “no fly zones.”  While simple hacking could neutralize these software limitations, it might be in response to recent articles about how ISIS is using UAV.

Frame capture of an ISIS video – allegedly performing recon

Lockheed’s Fury ISR UAS has its first customer.

In flight tests since May 2016, Lockheed Martin’s Fury unmanned aerial system (UAS) has reliably demonstrated more than 12-hour endurance, while simultaneously operating 100 pounds of ISR payloads. Image courtesy Lockheed Martin. (PRNewsfoto/Lockheed Martin)

A legal analysis of FAA regulations related to drones.  This came to my attention through an undergrad classmate of mine and fellow attorney:


I’ve written previously about the potential of hacking drones.  Here is an article about a very basic UAV getting hacked.  Obviously more expensive UAV will have better security, but whether using personally or professionally, one must keep in mind cyber threats:


Another objective indication that UAS are decreasing costs and risk to employees, this case in regard to oil inspections (previous post on this topic):


Northrop Grumman Corp. is the anchor tenant at North Dakota’s Grand Sky Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Business and Aviation Park (see this post about them breaking ground).


Cyber in the military context – DroneDefender can be used by military personnel to disrupt the communications systems of hostile UAS.   This article contains a video about DroneDefender.


Protonex announced a successful use of their fuel cells and hydrogen fuel for test flights of Boeing’s ScanEagle UAV (see an earlier post about preliminary testing).

Back on the Blog

Hi everyone.  After some time off of the blog due to a pressing workload, I am going to start up again on the blog.

This is a bit early in the year to be posting about fall foliage, but I saw this video from New Hampshire.  I went to college in New Hampshire and spent a lot of time hiking in the White Mountains.  It is beautiful both by land and air.


Additionally I want to post an article about an ad made with a drone near the Hartford, Connecticut capitol building.  You might think the main concern would be flying near the state capitol, but that isn’t the case (it would be different with the federal capitol). In fact, the main issue was that the flight was in Class D airspace due to a surrounding airport and hospital helipad.  There are many legal landmines in the airspace.

I am working on an article about drones and insurance written on Forbes recently, but I am doing a bit of legal research to develop the story more.  Look forward to that soon!

News Round-up: Whales and Thor

As a follow up to my last article about strikes against terrorists, during a policy speech on June 2, 2016, Hillary Clinton said that Donald Trump “would order our military to carry out torture and the murder of civilians who are related to suspected terrorists — even though those are war crimes.”  I’m not sure her position is shared by the US Government, which news reports indicate have targeted terrorists, even though family members could be collateral damage. 

Researchers from Kiwi – post graduate students at the Auckland University of Technology – were able to catch footage of endangered Bryde’s whales foraging off Auckland’s coast using a homemade UAV.  Their supervisor, Dr. Barbara Bollard Breen said:

“Bryde’s whales are critically threatened in New Zealand, so it’s thrilling to see them in the wild, and to be able to record them feeding from above is very special,” said Dr. Bollard Breen, a senior lecturer in geospatial science.


“Using a UAV allowed them to film without disturbing the surrounding wildlife – revealing footage of the whales feeding that we wouldn’t have been able to see from a boat-based survey.”

 Airbus is a fan of 3D printing, which I talked about in conjunction with AUVSI 2015 in Atlanta.  They’ve used it on components of the A350 XWB and have released a UAV named THOR (Test of High-tech Objectives in Reality) – a 21 kg, 4  meter 3D printed UAV.  They can use 3D printing to make UAV 20-40% lighter and in this case it is made up of almost 50 individually printed components.  Only its radio control and two electric motors are not 3D printed!

 Airbus THOR

News from upstate New York.  Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, NY will be offering a three-day class through a partnership with SkyOp, out of Canandaigua, New York.  The class is designed to prepare students to be qualified to fly under FAA regulations.

Finally, the 2016 UTM (UAS Traffic Management) Conference will be held in sites around Syracuse and Griffis AFB from 8-10 November 2016.  The conference, sponsored by AUVSI and NUAIR, will take advantage of the local test site and is a NASA-led research effort that seeks to “safely” integrate low-altitude unmanned aircraft (such as drones) into the national airspace.