Category Archives: Military UAS News

Live Blogging – Unmanned Systems 2015 Day 2

I am going to start with the most exciting part of my day, meeting with the 3D Robotics team.  This was one of the interviews I was most excited about, and the 3DR team did not disappoint.  I met with Dan McKinnon, who joined the company recently to develop 3DR’s Enterprise program (i.e.: commercial applications).  Of course the Solo is the big hit, and it is actually central to their Enterprise program as well.  It was great to meet a company filled with young and energetic engineers, and in a lighter moment he had to step away since he left a bag in an Uber car last night.  But using Uber, they were able to get in touch with the driver and get his bag back – modern technology and innovation!

Dan’s background in in agricultural surveying.  About halfway through his PhD program he started an agricultural survey business with his father.  It is still running and is called Agribotix, and their use of 3DR UAS is what brought him to 3DR.

He and Jeremiah Johnson, a senior product engineer at 3DR, went over the versatility of the product and how it makes aerial photography and cinematography much easier.  The Solo has “cable” and “orbital” functions for taking video.  This means you can set the Solo to follow a path or circle an object respectively, and it will take care of the flight through its powerful Linux computer allowing you to focus on camera operation.

These features make for great consumer videos, but will also make the Solo a powerful Enterprise tool.  For example, one can circle a cell tower for an inspection or plan a flightpath along a pipeline.  Additionally, the Solo is entirely modular.  This will allow for commercial application since users will be able to employ different imaging sensors and 3DR plans to add a mission planning component for advanced users.

I then met with Colin Guinn, a co-founder of 3DR.  He is undoubtedly a busy person and a headline speaker at the conference, so I am grateful that he took the time to meet with me.  His background is in cinematography, and we share some non-UAS similarities in boating so we got sidetracked for a short bit.

He started taking ground photos for home builders and eventually built an RC helicopter for a camera  (I believe he said a Canon 5D, but it was hard to hear).  The videos were shaky, so he set off to create the best UAS gimbal on the market, and now arguably the best consumer UAS on the market.

We discussed the modularity of the Solo, which also applies to consumer upgrades of various components.  3DR’s model is open innovation and modularity.  They are working on a tethered drone for long-term operations and have partnered with Aurora Flight Sciences‘ Panoptes to work on Sense and Avoid issues.  Panoptes is based in Cambridge, Mass and has developed a basic collision avoidance system for the Phantom and 3DR’s Iris.

I’ll round up the day chronologically now.  The day began with two announcements, one from AUVSI and one from the FAA.  The Unmanned Systems conference is being rebranded as “Exponential,” starting with “Xponential 2016” in New Orleans, LA.  “Xponential encapsulates the tremendous growth and innovation in the unmanned systems industry, as well as the broad societal benefits of the technology,” says Brian Wynne, president and CEO of AUVSI. “Xponential will help the world understand the potential of this industry by providing a single gathering place where people can see and interact with the technology and systems that will soon become part of our everyday lives.”

The FAA made their own announcement.  They will release the B4UFLY App this summer and the Pathfinder Program. The app’s purpose if fairly self-explanatory and will be entering beta-testing.  The latter is is a partnership with three businesses to research how to best harness UAS for various purposes.  The three companies are: CNN (VLOS for news-gathering in urban areas), PrecisionHawk (BLOS to survey crops), and BNSF Railroad (BLOS to inspect rail infrastructure in isolated areas).

I stopped by NUAIR’s booth, which runs the test site in upstate New York and Massachusetts.  I’ve linked to my previous article about them, and it was a pleasure to meet their Executive Director, Lawrence H. Brinker.

I also dropped in on my friends at American Aerospace, whose test flight I attended in Cape May a few months ago.  Their work has been going well and they just received a COA from the FAA to start operations out of Cape May Airport.  They are also hoping to being flights at the Massachusetts test site (which is linked to the New York test site and NUAIR) in the near future.  Not only do they have great pilots and technology, but they have a knack for finding the best locations to fly!

I then went to Airware’s booth.  They produce operating systems and hardware for commercial drones across the world, including the DAx8 shown below.


Drone America’s search and rescue UAS

I went to NASA Langley’s booth and got to put on goggles to watch a flight of an experimental UAS.  It is called the Greased Lightning GL-10 VTOL UAS.  It currently runs on LiPo batteries, but they are developing a hybrid diesel.  Hence the name Greased (it can run on Biofuel) Lightning (the electric propulsion system).


IMG_8506IMG_8510Finally, I ran across Persistent Systems.  They are in communications, which is not my forte, and I will admit I went to the booth for the swag (a Nalgene bottle).  Their company grew out of a PhD project and has been focussed on military communication applications. They have tested their systems in the cavernous midtown section of Manhattan and have had found that the WaveRelay system has great range.  It is also applicable to UAS, since it can be used to send multiple encrypted video feeds from a single UAS.  It sounds like a great company, and I suggested they test shipboard applications by heading over to the Intrepid Museum in NYC and testing it in there.

I’ll finish on a light note.

My run this morning took me under the flightpath for the airport.
I believe this is Jasmine, but if you can help I would appreciate this. I remember the smell from Charleston and it always reminds me of a southern spring.
Watermelon Gazpacho “shooters” at the conference. Although I appreciated them with significant trepidation, they were surprisingly good.


UAS News April 22nd Edition

A number of stories are out there, so this week’s news round up is out.

I’ve written a lot about 3DR.  Here is a profile of their editorial director, Roger Sollenberger.

Cargill, one of the large agricultural companies in the US, will be launching UAS in Malaysia to combat illegal palm oil production.  Palm oil is in demand, but its production can be destructive to rainforests and can also displace local populations.  Cargill is training pilots, and separately has a goal to have 100% sustainable operations by 2020.

The Office of Naval Research announced tests of its Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program. “The ONR demonstrations, which took place over the last month in multiple locations, included the launch of Coyote UAVs capable of carrying varying payloads for different missions. Another technology demonstration of nine UAVs accomplished completely autonomous UAV synchronization and formation flight.”  As part of this program, ONR tested a BAE Systems/Sensintel Coyote, which can be launched from the air or ship and was developed under a ONR Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant.  The video below is quite interesting.

Danielson Aircraft Systems (DAS) has created turbo-diesel engine designed specifically for UAS use.  The inline three-cylinder (I3) 100 TD2 is pictured below.

Danielson-Trident-engineThere are two education stories in the news.  Auburn University received a 333 exemption from the FAA, which will allow them to start a Flight School as part of the Auburn University Aviation Center. Training can be conducted throughout the state and continues a 75 year tradition of flight training at the university. The University of Denver will be offering a “UAV for GIS” online course, that will run for 10 weeks this summer. It will be followed by a Digital Image Processing course in the fall.

The interestingly-named “Gooney Bird” is going to attempt to break the <55 lb UAS endurance record this summer by flying over 5,000 nm.  The Gooney Bird is another name for an Albatross, known for its efficiency in the air and ability to dynamically soar.  It is designed by Rob Coatney, an aero/mechanical engineer at Zepher Inc.

In military news, the Israeli Hermes 900 a MALE UAS, is poised to help Israel with both combat and intelligence activities.  The specs are available from its manufacturer, Elbit Systems.  Unfortunately, or allies aren’t the only ones in the game.  We might be restricted sale overseas, but Russia is rumored to be selling to China.

The FAA Maine’s Down East Emergency Medicine Institute a 333 exemption to conduct aerial search and rescue with VK–FF–X4 Multirotor and VK-Ranger EX–SAR Fixed Wing UAS.

I wrote recently about UAV Turbines.  They announced that they will produce 15 of their new engines for lease to manufacturers.  This $20M investment will allow companies to test the engines on their airframes quicker than if the companies entered Joint Development Agreements.



From Top Gun to the X-47-B

On March 5, 2015, the former USS RANGER began its final voyage – to the scrap yard.  The carrier is one of four Forrestal-class super carriers and, while commissioned, it served extensively in Vietnam and the first Gulf War.  This ship is famous as the carrier depicted in the opening scene of Top Gun and stood in for the USS ENTERPRISE in one of my favorites, Star Trek IV.

Recently, a drone videographer filmed a video of it while the tugs were refueling in Balboa. It is an inevitable but sad part of the life of a ship.  The propellers and rudders on the flight deck near the stern illustrate the size of the propulsion system for a ship this large!  The video is below.  See the end for clips from Top Gun and Star Trek IV.

The ex-USS Ranger had been in Bremerton, Washington for the last eight years while the Navy attempted to find a museum or historical society that could accept the ship.  Unfortunately, the group could only raise $100,000 toward its $35 million operating budget.  So ex-USS Ranger is now on its final voyage.  Since it is too large for the Panama Canal, it will travel around South America to Texas.  The Navy paid one cent to International Shipbreakers, who will pay to transport it, cut it up, and sell the scrap.  I’m sure they’ll have an easier transit than Donfgeng, who I wrote about this month.

As the ex-USS Ranger heads to the yard, the Navy performed its first mid-air refueling of Salty Dog 502, one of two X-47-B carrier-based UAS.  The X-47-B was developed by Northrop Grumman as part of a $635.8 million contract that grew to $813 million, in addition to a $63 million contract for “post-demonstration” development that funded these demonstrations.  The Salty Dogs are being retired and the Navy plans to move on to the Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) UAS.


The Navy does see the value of UAS.  Last week, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that he would create and assign a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Unmanned System and add a Navy Staff office for unmanned in N-9 (Warfare Systems).  He wants to ensure that “all aspects of unmanned – in all domains – over, on and under the sea and coming from the sea to operate on land – will be coordinated and championed.”

As an aside for government procurement enthusiasts, the ex-USS Ranger contract is considered a “procurement” and not a sales contract, so the government was obligated to obtain the lowest price possible.  The metal might be valuable, but the government was seeking a service, specifically the disposal of the ship.

(The featured image is from GreenDef and is an X-47-B landed on USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH (CVN-77).  You can see the wire if you look closely)

UAS Tech News Round-up

I’ll start with a PSA:  No Drones at the Boston Marathon next Monday.  This should go without saying, but it is worth mentioning.  Good luck to all the runners!



There have been a lot of exciting announcements coming out of the UAS industry recently.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they are meant to coincide with the build-up to AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 2015 Conference!  Instead of cherry-picking my favorite stories, I’ll briefly mention a number of them and link to the original stories for those who want to read further.

Northrum Grumman signed a lease for facilities and access at the North Dakota Grand Sky UAS Tech Park and will break ground in September.  General Atomics is coming out in July and the state has provided funding and support for UAS operations.  This is the first in the nation UAS Technology Park according to the site.

– According to SeaPower Magazine, “the Coast Guard received $6.3 million in its fiscal 2015 budget to purchase a small UAS for its National Security Cutter (NSC) fleet and the end game is to have a small UAS on cutters over its entire future surface fleet. This includes the NSC, Fast Response Cutter and Offshore Patrol Cutter.”

– In unmanned, but not aerial, military news, the Navy will for the first time deploy drones from the versatile Virginia Class submarine fleet.  These will include Remus 600 Unmanned Underwater Vehicles.

The older Los-Angeles Class attack submarine returning to homeport in Groton, CT after Hurricane Irene. Taken by the author in 2011.


– DJI is hoping to raise more capital with a valuation for their company of $10 billion.  They are the most well-known consumer UAS manufacturer and easily the most valuable.  Compare this to the recent $50 million raised by 3DR.

– The Arctic Centre for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, a partnership between Norut, UiT The Arctic University of Norway and Lufttransport, has opened.  According to the director, “The Arctic Centre for Unmanned Aircraft Systems will be a national and international focal point in the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for emergency response and environmental monitoring in the Arctic.”

–  Boeing has acquired 2d3 Sensing, a company specializing in motion imagery processing of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) data.  Boeing already uses 2d3 Sensing products on their ScanEagle and Integrator UAS.

– Zookeepers at the Royal Burgers’ Zoo in the Netherlands thought they’d try to get aerial images of a chimpanzee with a UAS.  The chimp disagreed:

–  Rapid Imaging Software, Inc. is introducing SmarTopo Harvest.  The technology delivers obstacle survey and detection technology and is Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified to a level 1B.  According to the company, SmarTopo Harvest:

  • Searches for obstacles – the height for the search is set by the analyst
  • Detects objects or structures may be compared to the FAA obstacle database
  • Estimates height of the objects or structures
  • Creates new obstacle for a proprietary database

– Finally, the well-regarded De Zwann restaurant in Etten-Leur, North Brabant, Netherlands has used race cars, hot air balloons, and helicopters to deliver the first asparagus of the season.  This year they tried a UAS, but the plan went up in flames:


3DR Solo Announced and Special Ops Mid-Endurance Solicitation

3DR Solo

The headline news in the UAS world today is 3DR’s announcement of the Solo.  It comes with an optional Go Pro gimbal and significantly more advanced control of the camera than previous or other consumer UAS.  The 3DR website has a detailed summary of the features.  The website has a lot of moving parts, so you can also check out the press release for a more text-based version of the announcement.

In short, it contains two computers and is designed for aerial photography/cinematography.  One interesting feature is that it can lock onto a point, allowing the user to focus on independently controlling the camera.  It also has a flight simulator for safe skill training and it has a 30 day money-back guarantee.  All around, this looks like a highly advanced UAS that can be used by one of any skill level.

Other posts on 3DR:

USSOCOM’s Request for Proposals – Medium Endurance UAS

U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has put out a solicitation on FedBizOpps for a Mid-Endurance Unmanned Aircraft System (MEUAS III) Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Services (Solicitation # H92222-15-R-0001). I’ve been writing about the potential opportunities for small businesses in the UAS arena who are willing and able to contract with the U.S. Government.  It isn’t easy and roadblocks about (think “False Claims Act!), but it can be lucrative.

Some details of the proposal:

  • There will be one, but possibly zero or more than one, IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity) contracts awarded
  • Period of Performance: 54-month Period of Performance, with four 12-month ordering periods followed by one 6-month ordering period
  • The new requirement is being solicited under NAICS 541330 with a Small Business Size Standard of $15.0 Million (requirement is currently being performed by Boeing subsidiary Insitu)
  • All personnel must have a Secret clearance with select personnel requiring Top Secret clearance, with the contractor having a TS certified facility
  • Tasks:  all planning, coordination, certification, installation, pre-deployment, deployment, logistics, maintenance, flying, and post-deployment efforts necessary to successfully conduct worldwide missions.
    • Tasks orders will be issued based on mission-defined locations
    • 300 to 1200 hours per month of near real-time feed of ISR data availability from customer processing systems.
    • Contractors shall provide these services using non-developmental contractor-owned, contractor-operated unmanned aircraft systems.
  • The solicitation is for a Line of Sight (LoS) UAS for 300-900 hours per site and a Beyond Line of Sight (BLoS) UAS for 500-1200 hours per site. Both requirements must be capable of fulfilling a simultaneous Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) and Electronic Warfare (EW) mission

The actual solicitation is unclassified but sensitive and not publicly available.

UAS Week in Review


I wrote about how UAS are being used in Kenyan anti-poaching efforts, and now South African National Parks (SANParks) is testing methods of using UAS to prevent Rhino poaching in Kruger National Park.  SANParks Chairman, Mr Kuseni Dlamini, said “This aims at investigating the effectiveness of various UAV technologies as instruments in rhino protection efforts under a range of operational conditions.”

The photo below was taken by the author at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  This is Nola, a Northern White Rhinoceros – she is only one of five left in the world.  Admittedly, this is not from South Africa, but it illustrates just how badly rhino populations have been decimated by poachers, so I hope the program is a success.Nola 3


Predator Downed in Syria:

I wrote this week about the Predator drone that was lost over Syria.  The Daily Mail has posted what appear to be pictures of the downed aircraft.  Syrian media is claiming that the Predator was shot down by the country’s air defense, but the U.S. will not confirm that it was taken down intentionally.  A video can be found here:


Chile and Iran are both going to be testing lifesaving drones.  Having been an open water lifeguard for a number of years, I am all for this.  The video below shows the relative speed of a human vs. a drone lifeguard.  We’d still want human guards to complete the rescue, but it is much safer to approach a scared but floating person rather and a drowning person.

Drone v. Plane Study

A big concern regarding drones is the effect of an impact on an airliner.  David Schneider asked George Morse about a recent study analyzing the risk of UAS/airliner collisions.  Mr. Morse owns Failure Analysis Service Technology, based in Arizona and is well-regarded in the field.  He is an expert on foreign object damage (“FOD” – hence his web address) and was asked about using research regarding birds to analyze UAS collision risk. here is a quick summary:

  • He didn’t seem to think that the difference in composition between birds and UAS is a big deal.  There are two issues:
    • A UAS entering a turbofan engine – in which the engine speed is most pertinent.
    • Collisions against the aircraft – where relative speed is the biggest concern.
  • Delta2Turbofans (The damage to the Delta turbofan above was caused by a herring ingested during takeoff in Portland, Oregon)
    • A 1-2 kg drone is likely to hit the leading edge of a blade and get chopped up into a million pieces.  It will be similar to a bird strike.
    • The damage is unlikely to cause a fan blade to break, but could cause it to come out of high speed.  This is important since we are assuming the greatest risk is a low-altitude collision during take-off.
    • The batteries are unlikely to cause an explosion.  Worst case scenario is that they get sucked into the combustion chamber and burn up (just like the jet fuel).
    • Birds are actually more concerning, since they travel in flocks, which can result in multiple birds getting ingested at once.
  • UAS v. airliner hull
    • He was more concerned about the UAS hitting the windscreen (windshield).
    • However, the composition (bird vs. drone) doesn’t matter.  Speed and mass do.
    • So a 1-2 kg drone poses no more danger than a bird of the same size.
  • We shouldn’t minimize the risk.  Even if human life is relatively safe, the cost of a small UAS entering a turbofan engine would be quite high.  Much more than the drone – and the UAS user would likely be liable.

Apple iDrone


Apple Drone

Military UAS News

The Predator/Gray Eagle Series set a record with over 500,000 hours flown in 2014 – that is over 1,300 hours every day!  The Predator B / MQ-9 Reaper set a record with 1 million cumulative flight hours  (almost 90% in combat). The press release linked above details the amazing performance statistics for these UAS.

On the other hand, a Predator crashed in Syria Tuesday.  Well, we lost contact with it and it is presumed to have crashed.  It is the first aircraft lost in the fight against ISIS, but we can be grateful that it was not manned – especially given ISIS’s recent history with hostages.  There are certainly moral issues regarding the use of unmanned crafts for strikes, but losing equipment is a lot better than losing an American.

In related news, General Atomics won a $132 million contract modification (this article reports it as a $13.2 contract modification, but I will rely on the DoD website) to supply 19 MQ-1C Gray Eagle MALE UAS, with support equipment, to the Army.  The Gray Eagle is an upgrade to the Predator and has a 25 hour endurance, 29,000 ft altitude, and 150 knot top speed.  The Gray Eagle is an armed UAS and has triple redundant avionics.


The Coast Guard is also looking to get into the game.  They are monitoring options for all platforms of unmanned vehicles – including nautical systems.  They have been testing the Boeing ScanEagle, a smaller UAS with a 24 hour entrance but only 7.5 lb payload, and the larger Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout, a rotary wing aircraft with a 600 lb payload.  They face two major problems – the lack of aircraft-capable ships and the requirement to follow FAA regulations when operating in the NAS. They are making progress and are looking forward to implementing UAS into their fleet.  They are also utilizing a Naval air space on both coasts and have a Concept of Operations.


Finally, this isn’t exactly military, but it isn’t commercial either.  NASA announced that it is working to develop a helicopter-style UAS for future exploration of Mars.  This will be challenging, because it will have to be able to operate independently – signals take 4 to 20 minutes to arrive from Earth.  It would be only 1 kg and operate in conjunction with a ground rover, like Curiosity.

On an unrelated note, a drone was spotted (and recorded) very close to a helicopter in Washington State. It made the top headline on Drudge Report.  Unfortunately this is the kind of news that makes the big headlines, and it isn’t the kind that helps the image of UAS.  I’m sure even most drone enthusiasts will agree that this was not a safe flight plan by the user.

News Round-up

Since I have been gone awhile, I figured I would highlight some recent articles that caught my attention.

The Alaska Board of Game is banning the use of UAS to spot salmon.  With salmon season coming up later this spring, this will be something to keep an eye on.  The article has some pretty good comments, and it doesn’t appear that most people are that up in arms about the ruling.

Alaska 737-800 WL N559AS (12-Wild Alaska Seafood)(Grd) SFO (MDB)(46)-M


Australian researchers at QUT are testing sense and avoid technology as part of their “Project ResQu.”  The website is great and I hope to write more about this in the future.

MotionDSP, which has been involved in providing components related to imaging on military UAS, but is transitioning to commercial applications.  They are collaborating with the University of North Dakota and University of Kansas (both discussed  in the article linked to with QUT regarding UAS Education), as well as Auburn University.  They are excited for applying video applications to commercial UAS.  They’ll have some export issues to address, but I’m sure they are on top of it.  Auburn has a summer program relating to UAS, funding in part by the National Science Foundation and Department of Defense.

I wrote about the SoCal UAS entrepreneurs at 3D Robotics, and now there is an article about Aussie drone entrepreneurs.

  • Matthew Sweeny, owner of Flirtey is from Sydney but is based at the University of Nevada – Reno.  Unfortunately for us, he’s looking to head to New Zealand to test his UAS, since it is more drone friendly than we are (there are almost no limits for UAS under 25 kg, except that they stay away from airports, remain under 400′ and those over 15 kg remain in the line of sight).  He’s looking to break into the drone delivery service, à la Amazon Prime Air.
  • Nick Smith owns Drones for Hire, the country’s largest group of professional drone operators.  In Australia, one must get certified to operate commercially – typically by taking a roughly $2500 AUD course and can then make $100-$600 per hour.  Honestly, I think that a course like this would be welcomed by many for commercial operation in the US, but the FAA is not planning to require it.

Boeing is testing the combined use of solar energy and fuel cells on UAS.  The fuel is Hydrogen gas and solar energy is used to cause it to react with Oxygen in the air, creating water and electricity used to power the UAS.  They say it can keep the UAS in the air for 8-9 hours. View the video below.  This is exciting since the weight with traditional batteries have made them prohibitive for small UAS flight time over 20-30 minutes!

The Italian Air Force will be the first customer for the Piaggio Aerospace P.1HH HammerHead UAV.  Piaggio was originally an Italian company but is now 98% owned by an Abu Dhabi company.  General Atomics has been attempting to increase sales in Europe, whose prospects increased after recent news from DDTC, but Italy was involved in the HammerHead’s development and went with that product.  The article also reports that European countries were hoping to develop a joint Medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV, but Italy chose another path.


Changes are coming to ECCN 9A012, which will loosen requirements on commercial UAS.  They will be proposed in the coming months.

Michigan State Police was the first public agency to receive a license from the FAA to fly state-wide.  I’m assuming they received a public COA, and they’ve already flown a mission over a fire.

Arthur Trembanis, Associate Professor of Oceanography at the University of Delaware School of Marine Science and Policy used a UAS to assess damage from a February storm along the Adriatic coast, in conjunction with Paolo Ciavola from the University of Ferrara.