Letter of the Week:
Drones No Danger
I’m a commercial pilot and small drone operator and want to thank you for not joining the unfounded media hysteria over small UAV operation in the U.S.
Regarding the “numerous” drone sightings reported by pilots as tabulated by the FAA, I’ve examined them, and the most frequently used words were “UNKN” (for “unknown”) followed by “No Evasive Action.” Many of the reports are in Class E airspace, where the separation requirements for VFR flight are “see and avoid.” Most amazing is that the pilots can even see a drone from the distances reported. Standing on the ground, looking up at a popular drone model, it becomes a barely perceptible speck at 200 feet – yet quite a few of the reports say the sighted aircraft was 500 feet away from them. One even reported “a few hundred yards.” Another, “3,000 feet below.” How is that a threat?
In two of the reports, pilots said they received a TCAS (traffic collision avoidance service) alert. An Express Jet over New Jersey and a National Guard helicopter both reported a TCAS alert. TCAS only reports aircraft with transponders. The lightest Mode S transponder I’ve ever heard of weighs 440 grams and needs an encoding altimeter and transponder antenna. It also costs $2,500. I very seriously doubt that we’re talking about a small drone sighting.
In the 1960s, pilots were encouraged to report UFO sightings, and today it’s drones. There is no difference but the name of the sightings. I would suggest there’s usually nothing there.
There is absolutely no factual evidence to support the fear and ignorance around small personal drones. There have been hundreds of thousands of hours of flight time using these small aircraft, yet there is not one verifiable report of a drone crash that resulted in a serious injury to someone not connected to the flight. Not one. It is a safety record that all other segments of aviation would be jealous to have. According to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, 100,000 hours in the general aviation fleet would include at least one fatality.
So where’s the blood and mayhem to justify some people’s positions that small personal drones are a threat to public safety?
Flying to Cuba
I just read the article on flying to Cuba in GA aircraft. As fly-out director for the Buttonville Flying Club (COPA Flight 44) based in Toronto, I can tell you that we have had members fly to Cuba in their own aircraft, despite fees and paperwork that can be more than a little daunting.
However, they can’t depart U.S. soil for the reasons you have stated in your article. For that reason, they have flown via the Bahamas and other Caribbean nation islands to do the trip.
I am sure Cuba and the fortunes of its people will be changed by this new relationship with the U.S., which in my opinion has been too long in coming. As one who has visited there several times for work and pleasure, I can say that the Cuban people I’ve met, politics aside, are among the finest, most generous, and friendliest I have come across, as a group, anywhere in my travels.
A Sinking Feeling
Many years ago, Bill Dana and I were flying the [NASA] Dryden DC-3 looking at potential emergency landing sites for the upcoming space shuttle flights. At the Black Rock Desert, we landed on a very hard, smooth, dry lake bed.
One of our checks was to drive a one-inch steel spike into the lake bed. It was indeed very hard down to about one foot. Then, with one more hit with the sledge hammer, the spike fell away into – what?
We did not inquire further but quickly boarded the DC-3, started the engines, and did a minimum warm-up with no power check and started rolling for immediate take-off.
I suggest that the people who want to use a 747 as a people mover at Burning Man make sure that their parking and towing route will take the weight.