Category Archives: News

Team Delaware International Drone Day

Today was the Team Delaware International Drone Day at Brandywine Creek State Park.  It was a chilly day but a beautiful park and a great place for the event. My wife was reminiscing about the cross country races she ran there when she was at Padua Academy in Wilmington, but the rolling hills and large fields made it a great place for flying drones too!

Thank you to everyone who listed to me speak.  If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at dlincoln525@gmail.com.   If you are interested in insurance coverage, wife Kristen at kristenl@gowrie.com can help. (as my wife, I guess she is technically the Dutchess of Drones, but she’s fine with just “Kristen”). Also, I wasn’t able to catch too many names while I was there.  If you see a picture below that is of you or your drone, please let me know.  I’m happy to credit you and/or send you the full size file.Flyer

There were a number of tents set up with local companies that sell and operate UAS, an FPV race course, and a flight line for standard flying.  The team received permission from the park to fly, had the FAA issue a NOTAM for the event, and ensured that everyone was operating safety.  It was a great event and I am thankful that Dan Herbert of Sky Gear Solutions invited me to speak.

Team Delaware 20 Team Delaware 21 Team Delaware 23 Team Delaware 22I gave a brief talk on risk mitigation for UAS operation and mentioned some of the good uses for UAS – the Koala research along Australia’s Sunshine Coast seemed quite appealing given the chilly day.  I won’t summarize my talk since all has been discussed here before.  I was hoping to stay longer but the baby was tired and we had to get on the road back to Connecticut.

 

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I loved this sweatshirt. It reminded me of the test flight in Cape May!
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FPV racing – they were going too fast for me to catch.
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FPV Course
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Will Webber – the most interesting Realtor in Delaware!
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Even the dog was into it.

Team Delaware 18 Team Delaware 17 Team Delaware 13 Team Delaware 14 Team Delaware 15 Team Delaware 16 Team Delaware 8 Team Delaware 7 Team Delaware 6 Team Delaware 5 Team Delaware 3 Team Delaware 2

 

Drones and Fracking

The Mars Rover Curiosity has been broadening our knowledge of the Red Planet and, especially since his selfie, seems to have his own personality.  Now I think of WALL•E when I think of him (it).  But the technology that went into him is also helping us back here on the Blue and Green Planet.
Selfie on Mars – by Curiosity 
Methane escape is a concern both because of the loss of useable energy and because of its propensity to trap greenhouse gases.  Methane can trap between 20 and 30 times more greenhouse gases than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.  “Natural gas,” the fuel used in many homes for cooking and heating, is made up primarily of methane.  Natural gas is also used by an increasing amount of utilities to power their turbines because environmental regulations are making coal too expensive.  However, it has not been practical to survey pipelines for methane leaks – until now.  A number of technologies are being adapted and developed to detect methane with UAS.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California has been working to adapt a methane detector used by the Mars Rover to detect methane loss from natural gas pipelines.  This is a lightweight, laser-based technology that is being developed in conjunction with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) after California passed a law requiring utilities to minimize natural gas leaks from pipelines.  The device can come in a hand-held or UAV mounted format, is accurate to 10 ppb, and can use isotope analysis to track a leak to its source.
JPL's prototype methane detector (with Starbucks and what looks like a government-issued Blackberry)
JPL’s prototype methane detector (with Starbucks and what looks like a government-issued Blackberry)
Separately, an Australian company called Draco Scientific is developing an alternative UAV-mounted optical sensor to detect methane.  Their sensors are advertised to have a sensitivity of better than 1 ppm at less than 2.5 kg. They appear to be as less sensitive but lighter – an important factor for any UAS payload. Since an American study found that energy generation from natural gas is more environmental friendly than coal only if the loss of gas is less than 3.2% (from well to ignition), Dr Maryanne Large, Chief Scientific Officer at the company, is excited about how this technology will aid energy producers.
Draco Scientific is also working in conjunction with Melbourne Water to increase the recovery of biomethane from their treatment plants.  For those who don’t know, methane is a natural decomposition product from human (or other) waste.  If you’ve ever gone by a capped landfill, the tubes sticking out are to release this gas evolution.  Surprisingly, Melbourne Water already saves about $5 million per year through trapping this methane, but Draco Scientic believes it can help them trap 20% more and save an additional $1 million.  You can read the Press Release here.
Draco-MelbWater
Back in the U.S., UAS are combining with another controversial technology – fracking.  I personally believe that fracking has net benefits and is being done safely, but there is significant opposition to the technology.  A recent report discusses how drones are being used to limit the release of methane from some of the country’s 500,000 fracking wells – something that could both improve safety and efficiency and improve public perception of both technologies.
As a very brief introduction, fracking is used to release natural gas from underground wells.  There is gas in the Marcellus Shale deposits, shown below.  Pennsylvania has tapped these deposits to great economic benefit while New York has a moratorium on drilling pending environmental studies. The gas, which is about 90% methane, is trapped in the shale and cannot be reached through normal drilling methods.  Instead, the well is drilled and a solution primarily made up of water is injected into the shale to fracture it open – hence the term “fracking.”  The natural gas is released and trapped for use.  Local residents are concerned both that the gas will leak into and contaminate their drinking water and that the fracturing solution will do the same.
 marcellus-shale-map
Returning to UAS, the traditional method to search for leaks is evidenced by TransCanada Corp., which used manned-helicopters mounted with lasers.  The lasers diffract when they hit methane, so the remaining amount of light that returns to the source is used to determine the amount of methane in the air.  Robert Jackson at Duke University is researching mounting this technology on UAS.  The biggest problem is their weight, which to date has limited flight time to 30 minutes.  This is not enough time to assess a shale “play.”  Colorado State University Ventures is developing a competing technology using something called cavity ring down spectroscopy (CRDS) that can also deterime if the methane is from natural gas or oil.
Additionally, small companies are receiving grants from the United States to develop UAS-based methane detecting technology.  For example, Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI) has received support from the Department of Energy to survey methane emissions from altitudes up to 80,000 feet.  Southwest Sciences, Inc. has received a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the DOE to research a lightweight methane-detecing diode laser that can be mounted on UAS.
I will admit that my background is on the legal and chemistry side of this issue, so the methods used to detect the methane are somewhat outside of my experise.  The ASME Hydraulic Fracturing 2015 Conference  is coming up in the middle of March and I hope to have at least one follow-up article based on the conference.
Needless to say, UAS could prove to be a great resource in detecting methane for a variety of purposes and is a promising application of UAS.

Drones Make Waves On NPR

On Monday February 23rd, On Point with Tom Ashbrook had a segment entitled “All-American Drones.” You can listen to the podcast and review the comments from listeners by clicking on the link, but I will summarize it below. To readers of Droning On, most of the topics will not be new, but it is good to see what others are saying on the issue.

Mr. Ashbrook’s guests were as follows:

  • Jack Nicas, aviation reporter for The Wall Street Journal
  • Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Coalition
  • Gregory McNeal, professor of law and public policy at Pepperdine University

Mr. Nicas wrote an article last Friday in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Drone Ban? Corporations Skirt Rules,” which is self-explanatory. He started off the segment by discussing some of the uses to which drones are already being put in the United States and abroad.

  • Drones are being used in small to medium-sized farming to monitor crops and collect data for a new technique called “Precision Agriculture.” The draft rules from the FAA would still preclude their use on large farms because of the line-of-sight rules.
  • Construction is another area in which drones are being put to use. Construction companies have been unable to collect desired data about their site progress due to the pace of construction, but UAS can fly over the site every day to create three-dimensional models. These models can be laid over the site plans to determine if the progress is as planned.
  • Snow-covered roofs. I wrote about this yesterday.

Mr. Nicas also addressed frequent headline news – Delivery drones from Amazon. This would still be prohibited, both because of the line-of-sight requirements and a prohibition on external loads. He was relatively understanding of the FAA’s slow progress, given the increase in air traffic that drones will bring about. He was also happy because many in the industry were worried that the FAA would propose manned aircraft-like requirements (including aircraft and pilot certification).

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(Disclaimer: This is not my photo and clearly a “meme”)

 

As I’ve addressed, the FAA is hesitant because of technological limitations, particularly regarding Sense and Avoid. He did mention a number of companies that are working on Sense and Avoid technology. In addition to General Atomics’ DRR technology and Honeywell working with NASA, he mentioned Intel, Qualcomm, and numerous start-ups. Industry believes they will have Sense and Avoid technology in place by the time the rules are finalized (likely 2017).

Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon, was on with Charlie Rose of CBS and in December 2013 they expected to have deliveries by drones accomplished within 30 minutes!

Michael Drobac was excited with the proposed rules. In particular, he was happy that pilot certification will not be required. As he put it, “what does a Cessna pilot know about UAS?” However, he said we are far behind other nations and the proposed rules are not sufficiently elastic for commercial use.

He also mentioned a company called Chaotic Moon, which has developed the CUPID (Chaotic Unmanned Personal Intercept Drone) taser drone.  Video here (I couldn’t embed it).

Mr. Drobac discussed a rancher near Telluride who likes using a drone to survey her cows, saving her many trips up the hill to do the same manually. He also discussed the debate on Capitol Hill, where the issue may be forced with legislation. UAS opinion is not falling along party lines, however: Senator Schumer (D, New York) says he will consider introducing legislation if the FAA will not reconsider their line-of-sight stance, while Senator Feinstein (D, California) wants to see more restrictions.

Mr. McNeal, who I’ve mentioned previously, started by discssing the economic dynamic of drones. He responded to a question from a caller by saying that Amazon must clearly see a market opportunity if they are investing millions and hiring Mr. Drobac. He also mentioned other opportunities, such as in bridge and cell tower inspections, noting the higher than average fatality rate among the industry.

A caller asked about the “considerable noise pollution” that drones create. Mr. McNeal summarized the rule laid out in United States v. Causby (very briefly: a landowner has rights to some airspace above his house – a case interpreted and fought over in courts for decades as airports expanded). Amazon UAS will operate at 300-500 feet and create much less noise at ground level than your average UPS truck (and in the author’s case, the even louder noise created by his dog). He also noted that Google’s prototype will not even land but rather use a tether to lower the delivery. In short, innovators are hearing the public’s concerns and creating new technology to address these issues!

A caller asked about the legislation in his state that would allow one to shoot down a drone over their land. Mr. McNeal reminded the audience that since the FAA considers UAS “aircraft,” there are severe penalties associated with such conduct.

There was a brief FPV discussion, and Mr. Pirker came up. The take-away is that it isn’t always about the aircraft, but about the skill of the user. Mr. Pirker has flown around New York City and the Statute of Liberty and through tunnels with his FPV goggles. But he is that good.

Next, insurance was addressed. I am going to have a guest blogger in the near future talking about the insurance aspects of drones in more detail. FAA guidance hasn’t stopped people from flouting the rules and nothing can make an activity zero risk. Even if users don’t fear the current FAA ban, commercial users will heed the guidance of their insurance carriers and take steps to fly safely and keep their premiums low.

Mr. Drobac also discussed the safety risks and was concerned about the underutilization of the test sites. He said that many potential users want to test their skills and plans in controlled environments, and have been asking for time at the test sites to do so. He is attending a conference in Santa Cruz in May where they will be looking at reams of data on testing and discussing safe operation.

A caller asked if we are losing the “Drone Race” (see my comment at the end of this post regarding the “Space Race”). Other countries, like France, are allowing their operators to fly beyond the line of sight. They don’t care about their citizens less, but it does show how we are falling behind. In defense of the FAA, we do have a complex National Airspace, but that excuse only lasts so long.

The comments online were generally against the “one-hour long commercial for Amazon.” Writers felt that the segment didn’t address the privacy or human rights concerns. As for the latter, this was about commercial, not military UAS. As for the former, I wish it had come up. As I’ve discussed, I think there are good answers for that. However, Mr. Ashbrook couldn’t have done that and the NPRM issue justice in one segment, so hopefully there will be a follow-up segment on the privacy aspects of UAS!

All in all, this was a great segment that touched on most aspects of the current regulatory debate.

There was UAS news last night, and lest you think I forgot: drones were spotted over a number of French landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde, and the American Embassy in Paris. We don’t know much about this yet, but I don’t think it changes the dynamic. Just as people can buy guns illegally, they can fly drones in violation of no-fly zone rules. France is investing 1 million Euros in a program to detect UAS in unauthorized areas and I have to imagine we are doing the same.  I’ll keep you updated on any developments.

Drones Down Under (and over Snowy Boston)

Before heading to warmer climes, some news out of snow-covered Boston…  The city of Somerville, just northwest of Boston, is using UAS to inspect city buildings. For those of you who haven’t been subjected to an endless parade of snowstorms or have not lived in snowy areas, roof collapse is a serious concern when this much snow falls and doesn’t melt.

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The aerial coverage is being performed by a company called “Above Summit,” based in Somerville and boasting a large portfolio of aerial work.  The article reports that they are working within FAA guidelines, but does not explain the details of how they are doing so.  If you recall my post about batteries, Above Summit said that their UAS can fly for about 15 minutes in warmer weather, but only 5 min in colder weather.  I’m in San Diego for work but understand there will be another burst of cold back home, so this is a good reminded to think about battery life before flying.

Here is Above Summit’s highlight reel from 2014, which doesn’t include the video of the snow.  That can be found here.

In warmer news, the Aussies are making headlines in regard to American military UAS.  As I reported last week, the Department of State issued a press release summarizing its new, classified guidelines relating to export licenses for UAS.  These two stories make it clear that the U.S. is serious about expanding the sale of military UAS within the newly prescribed limits.

Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, which set the record as the first UAS to cross the Pacific back in 2001 with a flight from California to Australia, made an encore appearance when it arrived for the Avalon Air Show in Geelong (west of Melbourne).

This comes as the Royal Australian Air Force (“RAAF”) is working to procure the MQ-4C Triton variant of the Global Hawk.  Reports today also indicate that a number of RAAF aircrew and support personnel are being trained at United States military bases to operate the MQ-9.

The MQ-4C is designated as a “broad area maritime surveillance” (“BAMS”) modification of the RQ-4 because it is better-suited for maritime operations – something that would help cover the vast expanses of the Pacific.  With refueling capability the “UAS can fly 24 hours a day, seven days a week with 80% effective time on station (ETOS).

 

 

Niagara Falls Frozen Over

If you haven’t heard, Niagara Falls is almost 85% frozen over!  There have been pictures all over the internet, and NBC News posted a video taken from a drone (from the Canadian side of course – they don’t have the legal ability to use it in the US).  The last time Niagara Falls froze over completely was in 1848!

The Daily Mail is great at including pictures in their articles, and they didn’t fail on this story.

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Niagara Falls – Daily Mail Feb 2015
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Niagara Falls – I took this photo 3 years ago today!

 

The drone video from NBC is embedded below.  I was having some trouble with the embed, so here is the link to the NBC site.  There isn’t a ton of actual drone coverage since a good portion is dedicated to interviews, but it is still worth a look.  Enjoy.

 

Call for videos – 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima

I had a post all set to launch today, but it is delayed until tomorrow.  I heard a spot on the news reminding us that today is the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.  The Marine Corps – Law Enforcement Foundation has started a 36 day drive to raise money for their mission and has asked people to share videos of them and their family/friends raising the flag in memory of the Battle of Iwo Jima.  I encourage you to do so – and maybe try to get one from above (to keep in the UAS theme of this blog).  If you do PLEASE check to make sure you are within FAA hobby guidelines and if you are doing it in a public place, check with local authorities to obtain written permission!  This can be an opportunity to use a UAS to commemorate and important event in our history.

This isn’t the 70th anniversary of the iconic flag raising on Mt. Suribachi – the battle lasted 36 days and the United States suffered heavy casualties (6,800 killed, 25,000 wounded).  The Japanese, however, had almost 19,000 killed, virtually their entire force on the island.

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Iwo Jima and Mt. Suribachi – then and now

United States Marines made up the bulk of the American force and my words cannot describe the battle and the loss they suffered.  The power of photography to capture a moment is evident in Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the Marines (and one Navy Corpsman) raising the flag following a hard fought victory.  This sacrifice isn’t always being taught in school, so it is up to us to pass to our children the sacrifices Americans have made for our freedom.

The Marine Corps – Law Enforcement Foundation’s primary mission is to provide financial support for the education of children of Marines and Law Enforcement officers who died while on Active Duty.  We have been at war for over the last decade and have lost many soldiers to battle.  Many have left behind children, and the MC-LEF has been working to help those children.

From their website:

The “$70 for 70 Drive” is a 36 day campaign from February 19th thru March 26th. Our goal is to reach $500,000.00 or more in donations.

We encourage all patriotic Americans to make a flag raising video, as Greg did, to commemorate the historic flag rising on Mt. Suribachi 70 years ago, and to nominate three of your friends to participate in this campaign. While $70 is the suggested amount, paying tribute to the 70th anniversary of the invasion, any financial contribution is greatly appreciated. HELP MC-LEF reach our goal and continue our mission of honoring our fallen by educating the children of those who sacrificed all.

Be sure to include the hashtag #70for70 when you share your video on your social media pages. Additionally, please send your flag raising video to MC-LEF by emailing us at info@mc-lef.org and we’ll share it on our website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

(please also add @dophoto or email it to me so I can share).

UAS Exports

The government has been busy with UAS policy – not just with the well-known draft domestic regulations but with export policy as well.

Yesterday the Department of State announced a new policy regarding exports of military and commercial UAS.  Exports of defense articles, such as military UAS, are controlled by the Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (“DDTC”) through the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (“ITAR”).  Other UAS may be controlled through the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) and the Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”).

The actual policy will not be released publicly, so we need to rely on the Press Release.  The new policy put in place stringent controls on exports of military UAS, with numerous requirements to ensure that the end-use is in accordance with our policies and with the Missile Technology Control Regime (“MTCR”).  However, exports will be allowed, even for MTCR Category I technology, but likely just to our very closest allies.

This comes on the heels of a February 6, 2015 announcement from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).  They reported that the Department of State has approved the possible sale of General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers and associated support to the Netherlands. DCSA’s purpose is to support our global allies, including the Netherlands. The Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) governs the export of defense articles through the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

This brings to the fore the important issue of export requirements for UAS, something I have danced around lately. While most commercially available UAS are unarmed and nonmilitary, and therefore not subject to the ITAR, they might be governed by the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security’s Export Administration Regulations (EAR). (Note:  “military” is not defined in the ITAR as it applies to UAS – a word that has created ambiguity on whether items are ITAR controlled).  The EAR covers “dual-use” items, those that may have both civilian and military applications. For example, a UAS capable of autonomous control is likely subject to the EAR with an Export Control Classification Number (ECCN) of 9A012 (see sub-paragraph a1). Many of the newer commercially available UAS can receive GPS plotting instructions and/or have “Return to home” capability; likely making them subject to this ECCN and its the associated export limitations.

 

The recent announcements from DCSA and DDTC provide the opportunity for an illustrative case example in the differences between what appear to be equally sophisticated ITAR-controlled UAS made by General Atomics. It also provides the opportunity to show the level of discretion provided to DDTC when determining whether to issue a license.  The MQ-1B Predator can fly up to 450 miles with a payload of 450 lbs, such as Hellfire Missiles. The MQ-9 Reaper can fly over 1,800 miles with a payload of 3,750 pounds. The Predator XP is similar to the MQ-1B except that it is specifically designed not to carry weapons, in order that it can be exported more readily. This does not mean it is easy, however.

 

If the UAS is armed, the answer seems simple – it is controlled under ITAR Category VIII(a)(6). The category for unarmed military UAS is more ambiguous, and one will have to determine the purpose for which the UAS was designed and is being used. However, the ITAR also states “MT if the UAV has a range equal to or greater than 300km.” What does this mean? This is referring to the Missile Technology Control Regime, of which the United States is a part. This is a non-binding association entered into in the late 1980’s to limit the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles, and its recommendations are generally heeded by the United States.

 

The MQ-1B and Reaper are classified under Category VIII(a)(6)* of the ITAR and the Predator XP would be classified as Category VIII(a)(5)*. The “*” indicates that the product is considered “Significant Military Equipment” and subject to special export controls.  This is another area of ambiguity, the “special export controls” are not defined and are leave great discretion to DDTC.

Additionally, both aircraft will be considered “Missile Technology” and subject to the MTCR.   The MTCR goes another step and has two categories, Category I and II (which should not be confused with the unrelated ITAR categories). The MTCR states that there will be a “strong presumption of denial” for exports of technology listed in Category I. As for Category II, partners to the MTCR have agreed to “exercise restraint, [but] have greater flexibility.”

 

As it applies to UAS, Category I covers UAS that can exceed a 300 km/500 kg (range/payload threshold). Some definitions are in order. According to the MTCR, “payload” is defined as “the total mass that can be carried or delivered by the specified rocket system or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system that is not used to maintain flight.” Range is defined as the distance the aircraft can travel when fully loaded with fuel, independent of any external factors, with a trajectory that maximizes “range,” with no wind, and assuming a one-way trip with the most fuel-efficient flight profile.

 

The Reaper is clearly covered by Category I. The MQ-1B is also considered Category I by the USAF even though its advertised payload is less than 500 kg (~1100lb). This could either be because one can crease its range and add a greater payload or because of the weapons it can carry.  Specific details on the MQ-1B are not available and neither is the rationale for this classification – at least as far as I can find. The Predator XP was specifically designed as an unarmed UAS so that General Atomics could market to foreign entities.

 

Even the Predator XP is not treated lightly, however.   Recent reports indicate that the Department of State had refused a license request from General Atomics to enter into negotiations with Jordan (see my earlier post here). Conversely, the Category I MQ-9 Reaper is being considered for sale to our ally and MTCR signatory Netherlands, as discussed in the press release from DSCA. The only absolute prohibition on transfer, even to allies, is of the transfer of production facilities for Category I items.

 

This is merely a topical summary of the MTCR. The MTCR Handbook is over 300 pages and also includes numerous sub-components and production capabilities that are not addressed in this article.

 

One cannot stop at the airframe because both the ITAR and EAR control components within a UAS.   The press release from DSCA lists the major defense components in the Reapers destined for sale to the Netherlands. Many of these systems will be classified under the ITAR (likely categories include XI – Military Electronics, XII – Fire Control, Range Finder, Optical and Guidance and Control Equipment, XV-Spacecraft Systems and Associated Equipment, XVII – Classified Items, XIX – Gas Turbine Engines).

The sales of military UAS bring together all facets of the ITAR’s control of defense articles. The examples discussed above provide a case study in how they apply, but each product can be properly classified only after a more thorough review of their design and capabilities, including a consideration of its sub-components. Exporting defense or dual-use articles is not an easy venture, but it can be done with a patient and thorough understanding of U.S. export law.

 

Reactions to the Proposed UAS Rules

The big news in New England is the relentless snow pummeling the area.  We’ve been more fortunate than Boston, but it is a lot.  I haven’t found any videos of a snow-blanketed Boston taken with a UAS (guess that isn’t the first priority), but did find this one from Kitimat, British Columbia.

In the meantime, there has been a lot of news on public reaction to the NPRM.  Senator John Hoeven from North Dakota stated that the bill was a start, but that more needs to be done for businesses to be able to incorporate UAS into their operations.  If you recall, North Dakota and its test site has been pushing forward with R&D and are clearly interested in expanded the use of UAS.

Amazon was also less than impressed.  I’ve talked previously about its Amazon Prime Air.  They stated that the proposed rules would not allow it to operate Amazon Prime Air as envisioned.  They mentioned some reasons, and I have considered others as well:

  • Line of sight requirements.  Clearly Amazon does not want to have the operator remain in the line of sight of the drone – that would defeat the purpose
  • One operator per drone.  While “swarming” technology is still in its infancy, Puy de Fou and Timbre appear to be having success and the military is actively researching advanced swarming capabilities.
  • No operations overhead of people – this clearly would not work with a national package distribution plan.
  • They are also concerned that the rules will limit the ability of a drone to carry a payload.

The proposed rules are clearly a step forward, but also leave work to be done.  There is a comment period and I’m looking forward to seeing the comments come in.

On a related note, General Atomics announced that it had a successful test flight of a Predator B equipped with a prototype “Due Regard Radar” (“DRR”) system.  Frank W. Pace, president, Aircraft Systems Group, GA-ASI stated that “the prototype Due Regard Radar is a critical component of GA-ASI’s Sense and Avoid system, facilitating collision avoidance onboard the aircraft andallowing the pilot to separate the RPA from other air traffic in cooperation with Air Traffic Control [ATC].”

We have heard about how the FAA is concerned about Sense and Avoid as it applies to UAS.  General Atomics intends to adapt the prototype to work within the National Airspace System and to help define regulations.  While GA is known for its military UAS, we’ve seen military technology trickle down to civilian use many times (think GPS!).  Once this technology matures, the FAA will hopefuly open up beyond line of sight operation for domestic UAS – at least in limited applications.  I have to assume Amazon also has similar technology in the works for its fleet of Amazon Prime Air drones.

I’ll finish up with a brief thought.  Why do the rules matter, beyond the use of UAS domestically?  Our strict ITAR controls limited our space program and we saw other countries take over.  This article notes the countries with the 5 most deadly drone programs.  The United States is first and Israel is second; but China, Iran, and Russia follow – countries that we can’t necessarily call the best of friends.  We should be out front defining the industry.  If we limit R&D and commercial use domestically, UAS development will head overseas and we will lose our edge.

– Duke of Drones

FAA announced proposed UAS Rule

Yesterday, Professor Gregory McNeal of Pepperdine University wrote about a document that was leaked on the web.  It is entitled “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Regulatory Evaluation” and is an economic analysis of a proposed rule 14 CFR Part 107.  The drone world was abuzz about this, since it provided a lot of insight into the proposed rule.  I began analyzing it myself but as I was doing that I received an email about a press conference to release the proposed rule today (Sunday Feb 15) at 10:00 am.  The press conference was by phone and I could not get through since the lines were full, but some information has been released.  I won’t comment on the irony found in the FAA using a conference call line to propose rules for cutting edge technology.

Note that these are PROPOSED rules.  That means they do not have the force of law and the current regime is still in force.  That means that anyone, including you, can comment on them through the normal rule making process!

These rules are directed at UAS under 55 lbs, but the NPRM indicates a desire to have even more permissive rules for mUAS (micro UAS under 4 lbs).  The FAA has not actually proposed rules, but will review comments and decide where to go from there.  Make your voice heard if you have an opinion.

Thank you to Professor McNeal for writing his article and forcing the FAA into action – especially on a Sunday!

nanocpters

The proposed rule can be found here, a summary document here.  The Press Release is down below along with excerpts from the cost evaluation.

Summary of the proposed rule:

  • Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (25 kg)
  • Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) and daylight only (First-person view (“FPV”) camera cannot satisfy “see-and-avoid” requirement but can be used if VLOS is satisfied)
  • Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly involved in the operation
  • May use visual observer (VO) but not required
  • Maximum airspeed of 100 mph (87 knots)
  • Maximum altitude of 500 feet above ground level
  • Minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from control station
  • Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without ATC permission – operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace are allowed with the required ATC permission
  • No person may act as an operator or VO for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at one tim
  • No careless or reckless operations
  • Requires preflight inspection by the operator

The proposed rule sets forth certification requirements for operators and aircraft:

  • Pilots of a small UAS would be considered “operators” (not “PIC”)
  • Operators would be required to:
    • Pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center (and re-test every 24 months) – most knowledge required for the test is contained in the Aeronautical Information Manual
    • Be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration
    • Obtain an unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a small UAS rating (like existing pilot airman certificates, never expires)
  • FAA airworthiness certification not required
    • Operator must maintain a small UAS in condition for safe operation and prior to flight must inspect the UAS to ensure that it is in a condition for safe operation
    • Aircraft Registration required (same requirements that apply to all other aircraft)
  • Aircraft markings required
    • Same requirements that apply to all other aircraft
    • If aircraft is too small to display markings in standard size, then the aircraft simply needs to display markings in the largest practicable manner

Proposed rule would not apply to model aircraft that satisfy all of the criteria specified in Section 336 of Public Law 112-95 – Hobbyists can still fly under the Model Aircraft Rules

The rule proposes, but does not delineate a microUAS option that would allow operations in Class G airspace, over people not involved in the operation, provided the operator certifies he or she has the requisite aeronautical knowledge to perform the operation.

– Duke of Drones

Fin the raw data at the new “NRPM Central” Page

Altura and News Round-up

Today I am not going to focus on anything in particular but address a number of stories that caught my interest.

A company based in the Netherlands called Aerialtronics recently had one of its UAS participate in Avalanche Search and Rescue in the “angry” Norwegian winter.  The UAS is the Altura Zenith, a smaller UAS that is designed to handle winds up to 14 m/s, a payload of 3 kg, and moderate weather.  This isn’t necessarily the UAS one would think is best suited for rough winter conditions, but the team was well-trained and braved white-out conditions to accomplish the testing.

Taken by  Knut Torbjørn Moe, Special Projects Manager at Aerialtronics
Taken by Knut Torbjørn Moe, Special Projects Manager at Aerialtronics

I wanted to start on a light note, before getting to some of the less positive domestic legislative news.  The media has been highlighting negative UAS stories and what one author describes as “paranoia.”  This is why I try to write daily about at least one company or group that is using UAS in a positive way.  It is interesting how there has been a surge in negative stories and perceptions are changing noticeably – but many of the fears are not based in science or reality.

William Jelani Cobb, a professor at nearby UCONN, wrote “What Our Paranoia About Drones Says About Us” in the New York Times Magazine.  It is an interesting read, and here is what I consider the pull quote: “We increasingly glance at one another through a veil of suspicion, doubt and fear….Yet our privacy is far more vulnerable in the face of surreptitious phone photography or recording than it is to a noisy conspicuous device hovering in plain sight. The problem is not technology. It is, as it always was, us.”  He is dead on here.  Let’s be honest, few of us have lives as exciting or bodies so interesting as to warrant a stranger peeking into our private lives.  And if they were, recall how loud a UAV is – it’s not the ideal way to spy on someone.

Back to the “paranoia.” Two states are considering bills that are antagonistic to civil UAS use.  Washington is considering a bill that would add a year of jail time to sentences for crimes that are committed with a UAS.  I’m not sure why selling your drugs or the like is worse when you use a drone, but we’ll see what the state does.

While I personally consider Washington’s proposed law a bad idea, at least it is squarely within the state’s police powers.  That contrasts with Oklahoma’s proposed bill, which would provide civil immunity to one who shoots down a UAS over their property.  What Oklahoma cannot do, however, is immunize the shooter from federal prosecution under 18 USC §32 for destruction of aircraft, something I have discussed multiple times in previous posts.

Add to this California’s proposed bill SB 142.  It would ban UAS users from trespassing in airspace below what has been defined by the FAA as “navigable.”  Media outlets are already reporting that this means users of UAS cannot fly below 400 feet since navigable airspace is defined as something higher.  Again, I think this will just cause confusion.  I’m working on an article that discusses the history of navigable airspace.  The 400 foot height limit is just a guideline, not a law or regulation – furthermore, it would seem to imply that the FAA has designated anything below 400 feet as navigable for hobby UAS in certain circumstances.  Finally, the courts have spend decades defining navigable airspace for manned aircraft, and navigable airspace can include any altitude required for take-off or landing.  This is a very brief overview, and I hope to write more on this topic in the future.  In the meantime, these proposed state laws are only causing more confusion.

On the other hand, the Wyoming Senate has rejected a bill that would limit police use of UAS without a search warrant.  Last weekend I wrote that the public feels more comfortable with police use of UAS than with private use.  I think we need to balance both and both have advantages – and disadvantages.  I worry that if we put UAS just in the hands of the government and prohibit civil use, then we risk heading toward one of those dystopia’s described in recent books and movies; at least in that the government will have the means to watch us at all times.

However, the FAA did release some good news.  They have approved two COAs for the Northern Plains Test Site in North Dakota, and expects to approve two more – opening up almost 2/3 of the state to test flights.  This doesn’t allow commercial operations, just flights in conjunction with the test site, but still progress.  Hopefully this will speed up and encourage the use of the sites for R&D to integrate UAS into the national airspace.

On a lighter note, the Netherlands is planing the first “Drone Show,” called Air.  What it is is yet to be seen, but the trailer is pretty cool.  Yahoo reports that it is being put on in conjunction with the Royal Dutch Air Force.

 

And to finish up, a restaurant called Timbre in Singapore is testing using drones to help delivery food at their restaurants.  Don’t worry, you’ll still have a real waiter.  The drones will deliver your food to a location near the wait staff, and they will still give it to you after personally taking your order.

Singapore-restaurant-shows-off-autonomous-drone-waiters-01

The restaurant says it spend over $1,000,000 for this project, which includes using Infinium Robotics UAV at its five restaurant locations.  The FAA does not regulate indoors so American restaurants could do such a thing, but they are probably skittish after the Mistletoe Drone incident at TGI Fridays last Christmas.