Drone Detection App In Works


A Denver pilot says he’s successfully tested an app that can detect drones that might conflict with aircraft. Drone Traffic CEO Rick Zelenka said the test was conducted at Platte Valley Airport in Hudson, Colorado, and was the result of a NASA-funded contract to develop a drone detection system for aircraft. “It spots a drone and it identifies it,” he told The Denver Channel. “Then that information is shared on the ground. Then it’s shared with other pilots in the sky.” Zelenka said the system is designed to spot drones that are flying where they aren’t supposed to, including close to airports.

Zelenka is a former NASA engineer who has worked on a variety of airborne detection projects and is also a patent attorney, so the details of how the system works are not included on his website. But now that the technology has been validated, he told Denver media that he intends to release a commercial version that can be downloaded onto a tablet. “My main goal is to increase safety and get ahead of this problem,” Zelenka said. No timeline was mentioned for the release of the system.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Articles written with the following wording, “…designed to spot drones that are flying where they aren’t supposed to, including close to airports” leave many with the idea that drones are never allowed to fly on or near airport. While that may have been the case in the early days of drones, it is completely untrue today. Legally flying on or near airport (with proper authorization) has been “a thing“ for several years now. I wish writers would drop the “including close to airports” language and just leave it with flying “where they’re not authorized.”

  2. It appears to depend on a combination of passive sensing of the drone’s RF transmissions combined with some sort of optical sensing (passive? active?). In any case, sounds like a non-trivial package must be installed on the “sensor” aircraft. Hardly seems practical as a mass-market gadget for the general aviation world. Maybe a niche product for the paranoid.

  3. Hating drones is a popular pastime and I certainly don’t like them but in my experience the risk is nearly negligible.

    • All mid-air encounters are relatively rare, but look what a drone did to a 172 in Canada. If through the windshield, the pilot would have been toast.

    • Well, in aviation we work hard to prevent ‘nearly negligible’.

      Facts are there have been many drone strikes in Canada and the US in the past several years.

      Fact is a strike on a helicopter rotor blade may take it down (whether main rotor or tail rotor – helicopter will spin out of control without tail rotor side force).

      Maybe I could invent a semi-automatic gun and UAV detection system. :-o)
      (Have to make sure it can’t fire at a steep angle upward, think S76 rotor tilt for example, firing between blades adds complexity but has been done for propeller airplanes.
      Ships have automatic guns for anti-ship missiles, which can come in low or high.)

  4. Valid point but I think if your average GA pilot is going to hit anything it’s going to be a mountain.

  5. I like RC airplanes and helicopters but I don’t like and I am annoyed by drones. I just don’t see them as a clear danger where I fly.

  6. The FAA’s Remote ID broadcast will be similar and will allow smart phone and tablet apps to display drone locations within range of the drone’s transmitter starting in 2023. For those who don’t think drones are a problem for manned aircraft, I have personal experience encountering drones while flying a forest fire for a state forest service agency in 2017. They are impossible to see and the risk of collision forces manned aircraft to avoid the area. Operators who fly drones around an airport are usually more conscientious and will land their aircraft when there are manned aircraft in the vicinity but there will always be selfish or clueless yahoos outside of the airport environment who aren’t.

  7. The issue is mainly with helicopters, but now planes have been struck by them. I say helicopters because the drones should be below 400 ft, and nowhere near a place where a plane would be at 400 ft. But, there are idiots out there that ignore the law.
    By the way, we have had drones for well over 30 years. I owned one in the 80s. It wasn’t until they put a cheap camera on them and sold them to idiots that it became a problem. The AMA for model aircraft have had a waiver in effect from the 80s… the fools that began flying them everywhere should have been locked up in federal prison camps and this never would have become an issue.
    This was a non enforcement issue… just like letting idiots fight on planes.
    Lock them up for a few years and people will obey the laws again.

  8. The details of the system are on the Drone Traffic website (www.drone-traffic.com) and are captured and publically discussed in the set of issued US patents (eg US Pat Nos 10,650,683; 11,132,906 etc). The system is designed to receive either passive or active signals of a drone location. Passive, like a broadcast from a Remote ID campliant drone (by Sept 2022) or today’s DJI drones, is easier, but an active radar return, such as from a BVLOS radar, will work too. The idea is to warn the GA pilot of the occasional hazarodous drone (FAA documents 100 incidents per MONTH of drones operating in unauthorized airspace) and share that information (crowd source it) with other pilots that are interested but did not detect the drone themselves.