Drones: More Questions Than Answers

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

When Wilbur and Orville were sweeping the sand out of their Kitty Hawk work shed in 1903, could they have possibly imagined their little engineering project would one day lead to constitutional debates? It could very well come to that.

As you've probably noticed, unmanned aircraft—military and civilian—are all over the news recently, and with good reason. It's not that the working press has just noticed them, but it's how rapidly drones are being incorporated into both war and everyday life and the difficult moral and ethical issues this raises.

At last week's Senate hearing for John Brennan, the CIA designate-director, the good senators missed an opportunity to grill him on potential checks and balances for the CIA-operated armed drone program. And what precious little that did emerge revealed that there aren't any checks and balances worthy of the name. In 1967, the Air Force and Navy bitterly complained that Lyndon Johnson was second guessing their Vietnam targeting lists. Thanks to the lethal capability of remotely piloted drones, the chief executive basically has push-button killing capability to be employed against anyone he deems a threat to U.S. security, including Americans abroad. Lyndon Johnson would have loved it.

Brennan allowed as how the administration is real careful, but nobody outside a select group reviews the intent or the results of drone targeting. I suspect even John Madison and Alexander Hamilton, staunch believers in strong executive powers, would think twice about this capability left unchallenged. The potential for abuse is like mold. All it needs is the right conditions to flourish.

The constitution is clear that congress retains war declaration authority and the War Powers Act, which every president of either party seems to consider unconstitutional, is supposed to buttress that fact. But when the CIA or military agencies can field hundreds if not thousands of these armed drone aircraft over foreign countries operated from the friendly desert of Nevada, does that meet the constitutional threshold of war with a foreign power? No answers seem forthcoming and I thought the Senate was too gutless to even ask. But really, all this is occurring 7000 miles away so why even bother to worry about it? (That's a rhetorical query.)

While the short-term efficacy of drone strikes may be positive, the long-term effects may not be. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, recently told Reuters that "What scares me about drone strikes is how they’re perceived around the world. The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes… is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.”

Closer to home, the march of the aerial drones is just as challenging and has real implications for GA. The FAA is busy trying to figure out how unmanned aircraft will fit into the national airspace system, sharing airways with Cessnas and Boeings. I used to think concerns about this were the paranoid ravings of modern-day Luddites, but I'm having second thoughts based on the sheer explosive volume of UAV technology. According to Time magazine, just 10 years ago, the Pentagon had 50 drones; now it has 7500, a 150-fold increase in just a decade. On the civilian side, hard numbers are difficult to find, but it's certainly in the thousands. Law enforcement, government agencies, real estate agents, hunters, surveyors and, well, everybody, is finding applications for this useful technology. In a decade or less, you'll see crop dusting UAVs, pipeline inspection UAVs and delivery UAVs and don't be surprised if they do pizza.

You can see why the FAA has its hands full. With that kind of burgeoning volume, the problems are obvious. When does a sophisticated RC model become a UAV? And what determines that? Is it altitude? Speed? Autonomy? Sensors? Some combination of these? And if so, what combination? Will you need a license to operate it? How about a flight plan? Can anyone fly these things anywhere?

Technology almost always outstrips regulation and, especially, legal doctrine. The courts have already held that it doesn't violate the Fourth Amendment for a police helicopter crew to fly over your backyard and shine a spotlight into the dark corners. So, in theory, doing the same thing with a drone shouldn't be any different. But what if a quiet little hovering drone—these are close to reality—stops by for a close look into the windows? Will that constitute unlawful or unreasonable search? My vote, by the way, would be yes. Want a look, get a warrant.

Given the drone proliferation I just cited, the last 10 years have been interesting, but the import of these developments has been barely noticed by even those of us in aviation. The next decade will be likely be anything but low key when it comes to drone technology. And we won't be the only ones who have it.

Comments (85)

"I used to think concerns about this were the paranoid ravings of modern-day Luddites"

Imagine VFR traffic dropping down and around a big city Class B airspace, right down to the 1500' sweet spot for police drones. It's hazy, it's near dusk, and your family is in your Cessna. Drones are low observable, don't communicate with anyone in that airspace, and strive to be as undetected as possible.

DANG RIGHT I don't want to contend with these things that don't comply with see/avoid, don't have strobes, and don't broadcast to GA traffic.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 13, 2013 6:54 PM    Report this comment

Now you know why the ASTM UAS Committee is struggling to provide clear standards to allow UAS to operate in the National Air System. Years ago I sat in on a meeting that 'discussed' how 'intelligent' a UAS needed to be. Did it need to be able to do 'see and avoid'? If Yes, to what degree - the same as a pilot or a full 'bubble' around the UAS?
My response was much like Mark's, if they are sharing my airspace - especially near an airport - they need to at least have the same see and avoid capability as I do or they do not belong in the airspace.
Even more concerning, for the most part you can fly a UAS as a hobby and compliance with FAA regulations is minimal. Take the same UAS, fly it for hire, and you have to comply with FAA requlations.

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 14, 2013 5:52 AM    Report this comment

This is a great time to have an intelligent discussion of UAS with special regard for integration with GA aircraft. Let me start with a small list of my own issues and possible solutions.

Since UAS can't play the "See and avoid" game they have no business operating in NAS. This principle is so embedded in aviation safety principles there is no way for any aircraft without human eyeballs to operate in a way that is safe for others in this space. One way for this to be fixed would be to change the "See and avoid" principle for some other approach such as fully operating ADS-B in all aircraft - both GA and UAS. Even light systems such as strobes would not do the trick since they only help in reasonably ideal visual conditions.

I don't have any issues with privacy or other restrictions on UAS except for the outrageously controversial issue of armed UAS. These weapons of war have no business operating inside the borders of the USA. That goes double for such monsters operated by the CIA which also has no business operating inside USA borders.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | February 14, 2013 6:13 AM    Report this comment

If this keeps up it's only a matter of time before there is a mid-air collision. It may be that only then will this problem be addressed. If Congress gets involved you can bet that the solution won't be pretty.

Posted by: larry maynard | February 14, 2013 6:52 AM    Report this comment

I just love the way people offer ignorance as if it were God-delivered truth. A favorite lie seems to be that UAVs cannot "see and avoid." Politely, this is pure bullshit. Please be sure to tell me the very next time you encounter a human being who has not only eyes, but LIDAR, Radar, ADS-B, infrared sensing, and microprocessor-like reflexes and speed.

Properly-equipped (that's where regulations come in, my friends) UAVs will play the see-and-avoid game two orders of magnitude better than humans ever will.

As for privacy issues, I'm a Libertarian. But I'm sophisticated enough to be able to differentiate between the machine and the mission. Paul nailed it when he joked about pizza-delivering UAVs. Here they come.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | February 14, 2013 6:59 AM    Report this comment

Here in western North Carolina the main interest in UAVs seems to be in being the first to shoot one down and have it mounted over the fireplace.

Posted by: Richard Montague | February 14, 2013 7:34 AM    Report this comment

I would like to see various UAV's on display at AirVenture Oshkosh. For example it would be nice to see a Global Hawk (single engine turbofan, 32,250 Lb GTOW) parked in the same area as a Cessna CJ-4 and a Gulfstream G280, so enthusiasts of airplanes can note the differences. It would also be of interest to see an MQ-9 Reaper (single engine pusher-turboprop, 10,500 lb GTOW remotely piloted aircraft) parked next to a Pilatus PC-12 (almost the same Gross TOW; single-engine turboprop with the engine and propeller up front).

As for privacy violations resulting from drones flying over suburban subdivisions: If somebody has the resources, time and motivation, they could install a digital camera with a long focal length lens on any of a variety of aircraft we now have.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | February 14, 2013 7:35 AM    Report this comment

Thomas your comments only highlight the issues around UAS. Your are talking about the military 'big-boys' and you are right - they have the bells and whistles for see and avoid. They also have the big price tag to go with the equipment. For that matter, they are big enough we have a fighting chance of seeing and avoiding them, but that brings up another issue: what is the standard see and avoid response for a drone? What does a drone do to 'avoid' you if it sees you first? (Hint: There is no guarantee it will respond the same as a pilot would.)

Further, a lot of the issues I mentioned are related to much smaller, low-cost UAS for commercial applications. These can have anything from a one foot to ten foot wing span, weight anywhere from a few pounds to 100 plus pounds, and move at speeds of a few miles an hour to much higher speeds. Add to this a small airframe, small cross-section, 'sky-blending' colors, and no current requirements for 'see and avoid' let alone the fancy equipment you mentioned (no space and equipment not affordable) and these are very hard to see - let alone avoid. The other issue is whether the UAS is flying autonomous (pre-programmed) or under direct control of a pilot on the ground. In each case the 'see and avoid' responses can and will be different.

And before you say something that 'only' has a 1-2 foot wing span moving at a few mphs is a problem for GA aircraft, check out the web for photographs of bird strikes on GA aircraft.

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 14, 2013 8:02 AM    Report this comment

Paul M,

Your attitude about privacy is typical. Ask almost anyone, and you'll get a typical response. “I don't have anything to hide.”
I ask “how do you know you don't have anything to hide?”
Here is something you may not know. Ignorance of the law used to be a defense. Not any more Captain. Ignorance of the law is NOT a defense. This is something most people don't know. Or if they do know, they willfully ignore. You may be in violation of any number of laws or worse any number of Federal regulations. Do you have your fat book of FARs memorized? If you do, you are a better tail dragger pilot than me. Are you up on all the local, state, federal laws, rules and regulations put in place over the last 200 years? Still not concerned privacy? Unless you have access to a “banksters-style” legal department that writes the rules for you with a direct line to the Federal Reserve to bail you out, maybe you should be a little more jealous about your privacy.

As for the “commercial” and “public safety” application of UAVs, everyone keeps talking about “See and Avoid”. Avoid what? There ain't nobody to avoid. As we continues to devolve from a risk taking to a welfare receiving society, our airspace has become vacant. My attitude is, if I don't get to use it, nobody gets to use it. I can pickup my own pizza, thank you very much.

Posted by: Andre Abreu | February 14, 2013 8:22 AM    Report this comment

I think you meant James Madison (the 4th President), not John Madison? He was a strong proponent of the Federal Government, but then he also drafted the original Bill of Rights; two points of view that seem to be in opposition to each other.

I agree with you that the drone spying is becoming overly aggressive, but then it has always been held that anything in "plain view" is fair game for law enforcement. Drones just make it far easier to do.

Posted by: A Richie | February 14, 2013 9:04 AM    Report this comment

So far none of the comments have addressed the issue of the government using drones to execute American citizens it deems hostile to our national interests, while they are in countries with which we are not at war (Yemen) and are, in fact, allies (Pakistan). Ironically, while typing this, Fox News on the TV behind me was discussing John Brennan's refusal during his confirmation hearing to answer the direct question "Is it legal for the President to order the execution by drone of an American citizen on American soil?" Do any of you with "nothing to hide" find that worrisome? Little wonder gun owners and and many gun non-owners question the ultimate effects of additional gun control.

I have no quibble with the use of lethal drones in war zones, whether on the enemy or their American supporters, but selective execution of American citizens outside that restrictive environment is an outrageous abuse of federal power. So hell no, I'm not surrendering my "assault" rifles and high capacity magazines. Anybody know where I can buy a Reaper?

Posted by: warford johnson 11 | February 14, 2013 9:16 AM    Report this comment

John, speaking only for myself, I'd like to NOT address that issue here. There are other fora for that kind of discussion. I agree with you; I just don't want to muddy the waters.

Posted by: PAUL ROBICHAUX | February 14, 2013 9:22 AM    Report this comment

The drones will be protected from us little putt putts and that will either be done by Mobile TFR's or a complete shut-down of the NAS to civil aircraft.

Posted by: Jason Baker | February 14, 2013 9:31 AM    Report this comment

I'm waiting for the first UAV - Airliner mid air collision.... It's not a matter of if, but when..... Who's fault is it when an autonomous police / FBI UAV malfunctions and cruses into the approach path of Dulles airport and hits an airliner on approach? I'm sure the government will be quick to pull out the 'we aren't liable' card, the 'airliner' should of seen it and avoided it.

Posted by: John Rollf | February 14, 2013 9:43 AM    Report this comment


The requirements for providing collision avoidance should be the same for all UAVs, regardless of their size or mass. That's the responsibility of the FAA. If the FAA elects to create a wild-west area below some altitude (200 feet AGL?) with surface-level cutouts for areas around aerodromes, that's their business.

The methods and the sensing technologies employed are irrelevant. The absolute requirement must be to avoid collisions – period. Efforts to imitate human-pilot behavior are pointless. The OBJECTIVE is to avoid collisions. Humans do that using human skills and limitations; robots do that using software-embodied “skills” and limitations.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | February 14, 2013 9:46 AM    Report this comment

Sorry Andre, but see and avoid is not an option on low end UAV and UAS. As far as I can tell, most predators still don't have it. Furthermore, adding risk to others by deleting the pilot needs to have a cost. Ignoring that cost until we lose a school bus full of kids isn't a great idea. Pilots are reliable systems to reduce casualties among people on the ground. Remote pilots and software are not.

The RC vs. UAV line is going to get fuzzier, so it needs a simple set of rules. Go out of sight, too far, or too high, and you are no longer RC. Just set the limits. Too low over private property needs a limit as well.

Privacy has little to do with these systems. Our legislators need to do their damn jobs and set rules for privacy. Our voters need to do their jobs or that ain't gonna happen. How someone invades your privacy is less important than what info they get and how they use it. At some point, physical assault to defend one's privacy becomes justifiable. The limits need to be set here as well.

Posted by: Eric Warren | February 14, 2013 9:48 AM    Report this comment

I'd agree with Paul. AVweb could be declared a hostile threat to national security for promoting shoot downs of drones and/ or addressing the political agenda at play. Please keep in mind that online communications are read and retained by NSA, this includes your email, Facebook and other communication. With the outrage and anger on display on many websites, quite a few publishers have to be extremely careful as to what is said/ typed on their websites. This goes to the extend of having to close certain topics from comments.

Posted by: Jason Baker | February 14, 2013 9:53 AM    Report this comment

When first considering the use of drones in NAS, it seems reasonable that a good fit would be for "public safety" concerns. Catastrophe, fire surveillance . . sure. How about uses by the law? Not such a clear cut favorable outlook here. Too many rights, both moral and legal, may become targets for abuse for personal or possibly political gains. Want to have a look see? Get a court order, at minimum.

Posted by: Stuart Kollas | February 14, 2013 10:01 AM    Report this comment

Paul R,
John has a point. A point I was alluding to is that the we can loose the "privileged" to fly. The same guys that are trying to grab your guns are the same ones that are going to grab your airspace. The Bill of Rights doesn't say anything about a God Given Right to Travel by foot let alone by plane. The founders thought it was so obvious that it went without saying. Not so obvious any more. When they ban planes, only the bad guys will have them.

Posted by: Andre Abreu | February 14, 2013 10:02 AM    Report this comment

Paul R: I didn't bring it up - Paul Bertorelli did, and one half of his blog discusses these issues. If you don't want to discuss what Paul B. says, then don't, but I'd rather not be told to not participate in a discussion I didn't originate.

By the way, drones are here to stay, and the issues of drone intergration with the domestic airspace have been very thoroughly covered by this and hundreds of other forums. Eventually the FAA and drone manufacturers will "solve" those problems, one way or another, and whether we like their solutions or not. The much more concerning issue to me, and I would hope to you, is how those drones will be used and abused.

Posted by: warford johnson 11 | February 14, 2013 10:08 AM    Report this comment

@Richard, you might be unaware of small UAS capabilities. I'm proud as anything to have been working on sense-and-avoid for the last several years with pretty good results. You'd be really surprised what kind of control capabilities you can get on a small computer or even how small computers and microcontrollers have gotten. See Raspberry Pi, Gumstix, Femto-duino, and any number of smartphones. In fact I have an Ardupilot Mega sitting on my desk with IMU, GPS, mag, and it'll fit into the palm of my hand.

As for the fancy avoidance equipment, you've already seen ADS-B UAT receivers (GDL-39, Clarity, and others) for your iPad that don't cost much. Several organizations are working to put out handheld transmitters and transceivers. Look up the UBR developed by Mitre for reference. I've seen multispectral camera arrays that can be flown on hand-launch airplanes. The logic to interpret visual data into collision threats is quickly becoming capable of running on these same handheld computers (I don't know the order of the processing requirement offhand or I'd just say ja oder nein). Lidar and radar are the expensive, heavy options and wouldn't be placed on hand-launch or other small systems (though we're closing in on it, I know of a laser scanner that's around 8lb). You can, though, hack together a pretty robust system based on a laser rangefinder and that brings up an amazing MIT project: web . mit . edu /press/2012/autonomous-robotic-plane-flies-indoors.html.

Posted by: Michael Mullins | February 14, 2013 10:27 AM    Report this comment

@Eric. See the above for relative capability. Also why do you assume completely autonomy? I have never seen a vehicle fly without an operator. Maybe a blimp on a static line? Even then there's someone looking. The safety record in all cases is equal to the RC safety record which, actually, includes high wingspans and weights. Look up video of a model C-17 on youtube sometime, it looks amazingly like the real thing and flown under very specific circumstances. Thomas is correct, the avoidance capabilities given the sensors I mentioned are already capable of much better avoidance than your average human.

Posted by: Michael Mullins | February 14, 2013 10:28 AM    Report this comment

I don't consider privacy against UAS a problem because they are not the only systems that can "See" anything we place outside. There are space based systems that can detect anything a high flying aircraft can. These have been around for years and have capabilities that would amaze the average US citizen. For example, they could easily identify every marijuana plant growing anyplace on the Earth so long as it was visible from above (where it gets its sunlight).

Rather than whine about governments being able to see what you are doing on the ground I would suggest anyone who wants to keep their stuff secret keep it somewhere it can't be seen from the air.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | February 14, 2013 10:29 AM    Report this comment

@Eric. See the above for relative capability. Also why do you assume completely autonomy? I have never seen a vehicle fly without an operator. Maybe a blimp on a static line? Even then there's someone looking. The safety record in all cases is equal to the RC safety record which, actually, includes high wingspans and weights. Look up video of a model C-17 on youtube sometime, it looks amazingly like the real thing and flown under very specific circumstances. Thomas is correct, the avoidance capabilities given the sensors I mentioned are already capable of much better avoidance than your average human.

Posted by: Michael Mullins | February 14, 2013 10:30 AM    Report this comment

And to respond to the privacy issue, there are two problems I keep seeing in all the existing arguments. First is that even if you eliminate UAVs it doesn't eliminate the miniaturization of sensors. Quadrotors are pretty cool, but they're not really more than souped up RC aircraft. The thing that's gotten industry interest is the sensors. That's where the magic happens. The aircraft is just a payload delivery system. You eliminate the delivery system because they're bad and evil and will stare into my bedroom window, right? Well now you've eliminated a single delivery vector. The sensors still exist and can be mounted to somewhat less effect on walls, telephone poles, fences, trees, helicopters, airplanes, ultralights, balloons, etc, etc. The privacy problem and the energy devoted *just* to UAVs is a silly misdirection. If you want a real conversation, you need to talk about the sensors themselves.

Second is that UAVs are not invisible and they don't have unlimited endurace. Small UAVs can last awhile, but they're not long endurance units. Battery life is consumed within a few hours. You can mitigate by rotating vehicles which is attractive, but why the heck would you want to? Someone within a day would notice an aircraft hovering that long. Then if you're talking about true, determined, Afghanistan-style monitoring, the cost of the people and the equipment is an order of magnitude above what's useful for day-to-day legal work.

Posted by: Michael Mullins | February 14, 2013 10:42 AM    Report this comment

Jason, I'm not aware of any websites or publishers being chilled with regard to these kinds of discussions on drone technology. A little healthy paranoia is good, but it shouldn't stifle legitimate discussion.

As for the politics and ethics, this is the point, is it not? I have often pointed out that aviation, politics and ethics intersect; airplanes don't live in a vacuum. It's okay to discuss that here. Just keep it civil.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 14, 2013 11:05 AM    Report this comment

In the long tradition of aviation homebuilding, and in partial answer to John's question about buying a Reaper, I say: homebuilt! I suspect that the commenting engine will eat the URL, but try paulrobichaux.wordpress.com 2013/02/13/coming-soon-do-it-yourself-armed-drones/

Posted by: PAUL ROBICHAUX | February 14, 2013 11:10 AM    Report this comment

I won't reveal my source, but I respect my source as much as I respect Paul Bertorelli. We've already had a domestic fatal mid-air collision between a GA twin and a UAV, about a decade ago. Within minutes, the military arrived, hauled away all the evidence, and allegedly paid off the family of the deceased for their silence. Scary stuff if true, and again, I respect my source.

Then too, I listen to Obama talk about how we must prevent the deaths of little children in public schools, conveniently overlooking the fact that Obama’s drone strike assassinations overseas are not nearly as surgical as he would like us to believe, and Obama has killed 5-10 times as many innocent little children as all the other madmen in our country have.

The saddest part of this is that government doesn't care at all what we think, and now even AOPA air safety foundation is warming up to the idea that we can co-exist safely with UAS (choose your acronym of the year) thanks to rose-colored glasses.

I’m reminded of the opening scenes of the movie “Terminator I”, where the government robots were programmed not to see and avoid, but to see and destroy.

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | February 14, 2013 11:17 AM    Report this comment

While it may be possible to build your own model armed UAV it is still illegal for civilians to have explosive projectiles such as the missiles used to "Arm" these aircraft.

I still think the most important issue with UAS is the possibility of collisions with manned aircraft. These vehicles are currently banned from the NAS just as they should be. I anxiously await a solution for this problem which must surface before these craft get freedom to go anywhere in the NAS.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | February 14, 2013 11:18 AM    Report this comment

Bruce a little big of 'trivia' related to the UAV versus UAS. Several years ago the FAA asked the ASTM F38 Committee to change all references from Unmanned Aerial Vehicle to Unmanned Aerial System. The purpose of this was to clearly indicate the 'system' included the aircraft, ground control station, launch facility, training, maintenance, etc because the whole 'system' has to work for the unmanned aircraft to fly within the design parameters.

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 14, 2013 11:25 AM    Report this comment

"The aircraft is just a payload delivery system. You eliminate the delivery system because they're bad and evil and will stare into my bedroom window, right? Well now you've eliminated a single delivery vector. "

I find this thinking ignores an important point. It's the unique combination of sensing and flying that represents a potential abuse. ECPA and FISA, plus state wiretap laws, have trod the legal ground well on government agencies tapping electronic communications. If you plant one of your sensors on a line, a frequency or in someone's wall, you need a warrant.

This sensor technology is well capable of hearing in-room conversations through glass windows and probably other barriers--intoxicating capability for security and law enforcement and huge potential for abuse. This is at the heart of the NSA's warrantless wiretap controversy and it's well worthy of public discussion.

I don't subscribe to the theory that private conversations held in the home or business are fair game for eavesdropping and you just somehow should try to keep then out of sight or earshot. Why have a Fourth Amendment at all? Privacy should be the assumption, not the exception.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 14, 2013 11:25 AM    Report this comment

@Paul. I see your point, but I think you're misinterpreting my emphasis. I'm saying that UAS are unique and have some specific advantages, but that they can be incorporated into existing case law. The increasing capability of the sensors (mostly their shrinking size) requires the lion's share of the response and I think that the EFF and ACLU are ignoring that side of things to hurt of privacy.

Posted by: Michael Mullins | February 14, 2013 11:37 AM    Report this comment

You know that's right. If there was ever a threat to GA, it's the push for Obama phones... I mean drones.

Posted by: Andre Abreu | February 14, 2013 12:01 PM    Report this comment

Jason, my comment about civil discourse applied to the thread in general, not to anything you said. Political discussions can spin in that direction. I am only making a broad point.

Michael, the point is, the case law has not informed existing legal doctrine yet. It will likely come to that and it needs to. Far as I know, no court has yet been approached for a drone-related surveillance warrant of the sort of a sensor package parked over a domestic target capable of hearing conversations and or wires. We both know this will happen eventually, if it hasn't already.

Terrorism is the great all-purpose bogey man here. That's how the NSA warrantless taps on domestic wires got started. It's a trend to be resisted.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 14, 2013 12:18 PM    Report this comment


I assume autonomy because in almost every UAV accident it was acting autonomously. IOW, no control. Why eliminate the pilot? Now, with no pilot, is your aircraft going to be as safe? You say the robot is better, I say bull. The robot is not afraid of dying. The guy responsible for the robot is never even the owner. Usually, he is a lower end guy because eliminating the pilot was the primary value proposition!

Sure, there are other advantages to UAVs, but philosophically, when you remove the pilot you change the unwritten contract. You now have nobody who literally has their butt on the line. Therefore, I want exponentially higher levels of procedural, mechanical, and financial reassurance.

Robots can be better, but don't bet they be on it until its proven repeatedly that they are actually working as advertised in the field while being cared for by end users. You might find it ironic that your pro technology post was double posted, but I don't. It's the norm.

As for privacy, I find it funny you would write that all the arguments are off base when you clearly read my post in which I point put its not UAV issue! Anyway, we agree on that. :)

Posted by: Eric Warren | February 14, 2013 12:50 PM    Report this comment


Control systems are built to ensure the safe and ordly execution of their vehicles' hierarchy of needs. Don't conflate military UAVs with civil ones - they have entirely different missions and hierarchies of objectives. The most obvious difference should be this: military vehicles are expendable; civil ones are not. For a military vehicle, its safe return to base is subordinate to the execution of its war theatre mission. For a civil vehicle, its safe arrival at its destination IS its objective.

And Eric, the best soldiers are not the ones who value their own survival above all else. The best soldiers are the ones who value the success of their mission over all else.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | February 14, 2013 2:24 PM    Report this comment

"UAVs will play the see-and-avoid game two orders of magnitude better than humans ever will. "

Not law enforcement. Police will have less equipped drones, will be looking down, and with intentionally try not to be seen/heard or broadcast their locations to the public. They also will be operating them right at 1000-2000' around cities.

They've been trying in Houston since 2007:
youtube. com/watch?v=2tHk9Q3Fv6g&feature=player_embedded

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 14, 2013 5:12 PM    Report this comment

I noticed that no one has brought up the UAV's that were operated by Customs that have gone down due to various malfunctions along the Mexican border area. The Navy even lost one not far from Washington DC within the ADIZ. What happens when one of these UAV/drones have a malfunction when airborne? Without a pilot on board to at least attempt to avoid populated areas, this is nothing but a disaster waiting to happen. I have not seen anything yet to address these issues. What happens when all the wonderfull technology that advocates say will solve the "see and avoid" problem breaks. Now we have an drone that is nothing more than a midair waiting to happen, if it manages to stay airborne at all.

Posted by: matthew wagner | February 14, 2013 8:08 PM    Report this comment


Not sure what your post has to do with my point. My point is that civilian or otherwise, and there are models they share, they fail. And, they fail more often than manned craft.

As for soldiers, I was an officer in the army, and while I agree, I don't know what it has to do with this topic either. When I said in the field, I didn't mean battlefield. I meant outside of testing.

Posted by: Eric Warren | February 14, 2013 8:41 PM    Report this comment


Spot on. Lets talk about real drones, not science fiction based dreams of how great drones could be.

Posted by: Eric Warren | February 14, 2013 8:44 PM    Report this comment


You wrote "when you remove the pilot you change the unwritten contract. You now have nobody who literally has their butt on the line." It's the "skin in the game" theory, to be sure. My point was that the military and the civil missions have different priorities. As a design engineer, that compels me to take a different approach when designing the control systems for the two respective missions. The military mission allows the designer to sacrifice some vehicle safety, in favor of payload, endurance, etc. The soldier-vehicle's survival is subordinate to the success of the mission. For the civil mission, the highest priority is to return the skin safely to earth. All other considerations are subordinate to that.

The hierarchy of objectives for the civil mission goes something like this: don’t collide with terrain; don’t collide with other vehicles; don’t penetrate dangerous weather; don’t allow occupants to become endangered by environmental issues (pressurization, temperature, etc.); don’t run out of fuel; land only on appropriate runways when possible.

The military and civil UAVs certainly share the characteristic of being unmanned, but beyond that, their characteristics rapidly diverge.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | February 15, 2013 7:35 AM    Report this comment


I see your point now. Unfortunately, it doesn't change my views. Reality happens after you finish your design and sell the product if not before (ask Boeing if none of their designers wanted more time to work on that Dreamliner rather than going to production).

Even if you design a perfect UAV, it won't be perfect. So, I appreciate the change in design priorities, but I will be reassured only after more experience.

Of course, I may just be stubborn. I have yet to see the financial advantages of using a predator for border security rather than using young pilots in GA aircraft who could use the experience.

Posted by: Eric Warren | February 15, 2013 9:30 AM    Report this comment

"I have yet to see the financial advantages of using a predator for border security rather than using young pilots in GA aircraft who could use the experience."

That's because--and you know this--there isn't one. We're dealing with Homeland Security Bucks here and, heretofore, the budget has been inexhaustible. (It won't be for long.)

A year ago, I did some reporting on the Diamond sensor business. They're pitching the DA42 as a pilot optional airplane. It turns out to be cheaper and faster to deploy with a pilot because they don't have the logistics of remote control vans and links, plus the huge airspace hassles of planning for a UAV in the non-combat wild.

Unit cost for a Predator is about $4M. Might be double that for all the support structure. That would buy a dozen 172s fitted out for border patrol. But this makes too much sense. We would never do this.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 15, 2013 10:38 AM    Report this comment

From a local perspective in Az at least, we always hear about or read here that the Border patrol prefers the element of surprise when it comes to apprehending the crossers. The drones fly high and silent with infared and other technology to see a chihauhua moving at night on the surface.

This article came out in our paper to the hour on Monday that Paul's blog did. How Embry-Riddle is involved is new to me, but it seems everyone is getting involved in Az with this drone business.


Posted by: David Miller | February 15, 2013 12:07 PM    Report this comment

In war zones, I can see the use of drones for surveillance - i'm a little torn whether their use as a weapons platform is ethical. Stateside, I see absolutely no use for the things that couldn't be done with a Cessna 182 loaded with camera gear and a living, breathing pilot on board lest things go awry.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | February 15, 2013 1:59 PM    Report this comment

'-i'm a little torn whether their use as a weapons platform is ethical.'

The military is bound by the Law of Armed Conflict in warfare among other principles. Drones and precision strikes are the technological showcase of this law and demonstrate higher ethical considerations than anything from past warfare.

Drone use labeled unethical based on human error, bad intelligence or unethical behavior of the enemy is what is known as irrelevant reasoning and does not affect the law for its intended use.

I would, however, question the ethics and sanity of an individual who advocates placing a pilot in a low altitude Cessna in a border area known for crossers carrying AK-47's for the day and lasers at night for surveillance rather than using drones. I'm sure the agents would get a kick out of that idea.

Drone use is only going to increase and I have real airspace and privacy concerns too. But I'd rather focus on all the reasons for the slide of GA like interest and cost and time than having a 'living, breathing pilot' dodging bullets or lasers over a cartel-run border. But that's just me.

Posted by: David Miller | February 15, 2013 4:03 PM    Report this comment

I only know the savings is BS in my gut. I have never seen anyone who could be called an expert or authority admit or justify the extra cost. They always tout the savings and benefits.

As for surprise, there is nothing particularly stealthy about predators, and IIRC they don't operate very high on the border. You can put the same surveillance in a manned plane as a drone.

Posted by: Eric Warren | February 15, 2013 5:45 PM    Report this comment

Satellite bandwidth is an increasing issue for military UAS, too: it's expensive and scarce, and it's really hard to either make it cheaper or more plentiful. In this light Paul B's comment about the value of having a piloted DA42 Spy Edition (or other platforms like the MC-12 Liberty) is well taken.

Posted by: PAUL ROBICHAUX | February 15, 2013 5:51 PM    Report this comment

I am not advocating the old school fabric plane at 20 feet solution. If that is no longer safe, then fine.

I have been arguing for years that a predator is a more expensive platform than a GA plane even with the same sensors and coms. I have heard nothing but disagreement except Paul here.

Using RC camera platforms could actually make sense, but full size drones likely never will.

Posted by: Eric Warren | February 15, 2013 5:53 PM    Report this comment

I'm afraid all the "Experts" here advocating replacing predators with 182s have a problem. They are thinking like rational human beings who are also pilots. To understand these decisions you need to think like a government bureaucrat. In that case cost is no object. However, loss of a pilot would be a huge black mark on their boat (the one they are not supposed to rock). Also, the robotic pilots in UAS don't need coffee breaks or vacations.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | February 15, 2013 6:14 PM    Report this comment

The ethical consideration, of course, is that there's no meaningful challenge to drones being used on an active battlefield. But what defines an active battlefield? Right now, because the kill authority resides with the CIA and the president, essentially one man can decide.

But reverse the problem. Suppose Iran or some other country develops similar remote-kill capability and decides that the U.S. and targets therein are an active battlefield. Then what? What's the basis in agreed-upon international law that clarifies this? Why is it terrorism if they do it, legitimate war if we do?
Not so easy to answer.

Nor is it easy to write pre-emptive laws anticipating potential abuse. But some states and cities are trying.


Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 16, 2013 5:42 AM    Report this comment

Paul, One only has to look at Torrence CA last week to see that local police DO open fire first and then identify. It's not "potential" abuse, it's adding firepower to already demonstrated abuse.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 16, 2013 8:51 AM    Report this comment

That's not drone related, Mark. And has been going on for decades, so it's hardly new.

UAS technology introduces a different level of...remoteness and efficiency and on an international scale.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 16, 2013 10:18 AM    Report this comment

I have a problem with using drones with missiles to kill people from a long distance. It is clear this is not warfare as we have used the term before. It looks and sounds a lot more like murder.

The problem is what the military folks call "Rules of Engagement". On the battle field, it is OK to kill someone pointing a gun at you but not OK to kill an unarmed bystander. No matter how sophisticated the intelligence about the "Target" of a drone attack it is not clear whether he is in the act of engaging in battle or just someone out for a drive in the country who happens to "Maybe" be involved in a long term activity opposed to the USA.

If such a person is guilty of the crime of attacking the USA or thinking about attacking the USA then he is a criminal rather than an enemy combatant on the field of battle. He might deserve arrest, indictment, trial by jury of his peers where he gets to hear the evidence against him and present a defense, and the opportunity to appeal the first verdict over the validity of the process. None of this happens when he is summarily killed by a missile from a drone.

We really need to have a reasonable PUBLIC discussion over the legality of this kind of execution of suspected enemies to determine whether this is an act of (undeclared) war or simply a government backed crime.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | February 16, 2013 10:59 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I'm not sure if the definition of a battlefield is quite so muddled as maybe it appears. Perhaps it is just in the process of becoming clearer now. In past wars, entire countries were usually the battlefield, a schoolyard was bombed to oblivion as easily as a powerplant.

As you pointed out, terrorism has manifested as the bogeyman and changed all the rules. I welcome the discussion and the opportunity to possibly avoid full scale war with modern day awesome weaponry. We need our best thinkers on the job for this, not political power plays and matinee theatre we're subjected to now. Who do I write to put your name in? :)

Eric, I don't have a dog in this fight, I'm just watching the drone onslaught wash over society like any new tool or gadget. But since that fellow nearly lost his life in a well-built 172 over Jacksonville last month from a random handgun bullet, it's a bit haughty to categorize border patrol aircraft as fabric planes at 20 feet agl. I'll keep on saying that discrimination is a good thing to employ when it comes to a few jobs for pilots over very hot zones like the Az southern border or in the center of a raging wildfire if a drone can do the job. The cost will be balanced eventually and GA will not even notice.

Posted by: David Miller | February 16, 2013 1:01 PM    Report this comment

The current engagement doctrine is a two-element test. Imminence and association. Imminence means the proposed target is about to attack the U.S., its forces or interests. Association means a member or associate of a known terrorist group.

You can see the potential problems. If a terrorist spends the night in a house in Warziristan, does that mean those therein are also "associated?" Evidently it may have. Or at least we, as citizens sponsoring these attacks, don't know for sure.

It's a form of war by another name that does not require a declaration and is thus extra-constitutional. Or is it not a war at all? If it's not, then maybe it's police work in which suspects are simply summarily executed by drone.

I don't pretend to have an answer to this moral conundrum, other than to recognize that it is indeed a conundrum. And airplanes are at the center of it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 16, 2013 2:16 PM    Report this comment

>>To understand these decisions you need to think like a government bureaucrat

Posted by: Josh Johnson | February 16, 2013 2:20 PM    Report this comment

There actually were, in the past, agents who flew cubs and huskies at extremely low altitude to follow foot trails near the border. Believe it or not, they tracked people from a plane. I wasn't engaging in hyperbole. I can see how that is no longer considered safe.

I also spent a few years defending our skies. Hitting a plane at 4000 ft and above with an AK 47 is not easy for professional soldiers using tracers. The Army procedure is to use whole platoons of small arms firing at once and we expected a small chance of success at even lower ranges. This was only to be used when no Air Defense weapons were available, and was basically one of those things in the manual that no one practiced.

IIRC, the predator blocks for ICE were in the 6 to 10 area. Place the same camera and uplink on an equally quiet DA42 and do the math. The pilot will be fine. The loiter time is reduced, but the personnel, fuel, capital, etc are all much less. If our border and airspace are as unsafe as you seem to think, we need military intervention, not predators.

Posted by: Eric Warren | February 16, 2013 4:50 PM    Report this comment

'Oh, and who ever said fly the 182 down low. I'd think with good camera gear, they could do their surveillance from 10k feet, well above the range of an AK47.'

Well, it's a bit more than assault rifles. The Zetas and other cartels are equipped as well if not better than the Taliban is, with RPG-7's, Russian-made anti-tank rockets and more. I'd be inspired to see you and other supporters of this idea volunteer to drive to the well-guarded border area airport within RPG-7 range, takeoff and fly a 182 at night in black-black over mountainous terrain in 100 degree weather, be easily heard in the stunning quiet there from any altitude, covering vast distances of in-hospitable terrain and show all these border agents they have nothing to be concerned about.

Maybe then, with renewed enthusiasm to save the taxpayers money, the bureaucrats and Pentagon generals will be convinced to use Cessnas instead of drones over the similar, dangerous area of Afghanistan.

Posted by: David Miller | February 16, 2013 5:09 PM    Report this comment

Eric, you're right, my bad. I didn't put two and two together, as they say. On the border I knew nothing about low altitude surveillance, but there was a Ranger up at Tuweep many years ago on the north side of Grand Canyon who had a Cub, I think and used it for spotting people, wildlife and general assistance. He lived in a cabin next to the landing strip, overlooking the canyon. Horrible assignment, no doubt. We're trying to get it back open for backcountry flying.

And sure, I've been citing the worst case scenarios, but I still feel the border today with cartel dominance and probably a thousand miles of no services or airports for pilot-operated needs is a no-brainer to use the tools of modern technology, and better minds than mine can find a way to keep it fiscally responsible.

Posted by: David Miller | February 16, 2013 6:45 PM    Report this comment

The discussion of manned aircraft vs. UAS is largely academic. Manned aircraft might or might not be a better choice. What's less academic is the knowledge that the government acquisitions process is so under the control of the military industrial complex that it wouldn't matter anyway.

The high-dollar choice will always be the one that gets the nod, whether it works, is a better value or is utter junk doesn't really matter a whit.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 17, 2013 8:06 AM    Report this comment

Paul B. My experience is very dated (ca. 1975) but I don't think the government decision makers automatically choose the most expensive suppliers. I think the choose without regard for the cost. After all, it isn't their money they are spending.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | February 17, 2013 10:35 AM    Report this comment

>>> border and airspace are as unsafe as you seem to think, we need military intervention, not predators

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | February 17, 2013 10:41 AM    Report this comment

I don't think the government decision makers automatically choose the most expensive suppliers.

No, but they often choose the ones whose lobbyists have the most pull in the districts where said equipment is to be made. The F35 is a good example of this and there are other lesser weapons systems and other hardware.

The backscatter TSA scanners are another good example. Have your read about the Air Force's unified computer system? Multi-billion dollar contract that they admit doesn't work and can't be made to.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 17, 2013 10:52 AM    Report this comment

'It sounds a lot like the soldiers with machine guns that enforced the border between East Germany and West Germany in the Cold War. I wouldn't like to see that sort of change for the USA.'

Paul, a lot of similarity can be shown already with the TSA, airport fences, etc. But most citizens living near the border that I'm aware of would prefer that higher level of security right now, and are getting tired of political ineptness to protect their land, businesses, livestock and lives.

They don't seem the least bit bothered with comparisons to past military conflicts or appearances of heavy-handedness. I'm not either, but I know many are, as evidenced by the surge in gun sales lately.

It's just a mess down there, and what I usually glean from their plight is if the country can't protect them properly, then at least send them lawyers, guns and money. But other than target practice, no one's really sure why lawyers are needed.

Posted by: David Miller | February 17, 2013 1:16 PM    Report this comment

Dave, I'm confused by your comment. I can't tell if you are condoning murder of people for attempting to cross the border or not. In the Cold War days attempting to escape to the West was a capital crime with summary execution. In that day the soldier with machine gun was the state of the art for this kind of government sponsored murder.

Today the soldier is replaced with a UAS with missiles. We could use this technology to murder anyone trying to cross the borders.

Of course there is no basis in law for this kind of murder. Should we ignore the Constitution and "Rule of Law" so life is a little easier for the local citizens or income easier for the union bosses?

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | February 17, 2013 3:34 PM    Report this comment

'I can't tell if you are condoning murder of people for attempting to cross the border or not.'

Cold-blooded murder, union bosses, ignoring the Constitution, 'We could use this technology to murder anyone trying to cross the borders.' and Soviet bloc police states? Sorry, I'm just not even close to being in your head with all of this, and don't really know how to respond. Me, without words, just could be a first.

Posted by: David Miller | February 17, 2013 7:51 PM    Report this comment

I agree that it's a mess and somewhat intractable. The border patrol claims interdictions and arrests are at an all time high, yet residents along the Arizona border are routinely quoted in the press as saying the border is porous and dangerous.

There's a new high-tech patrol and border facility just completed but unstaffed because of budget cutbacks. Does anyone think this will improve under the sequester?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 18, 2013 8:28 AM    Report this comment

Now we are really getting off topic, but here is a small taste of the future . . .

The sequester is a joke. It is only an 80 Billion dollar reduction in a budget (if there actually was a budget) of around 3 trillion with (wild guess) a trillion dollar deficit.

If we are ever to enjoy a strong economy again federal spending must be cut a trillion dollars per year to get back to a normal amount of GDP. We do just fine with the government spending 18 percent of GDP but at 25 percent the government spending is crushing the real economy (my opinion).

Add it all up and you get that the sequester is not even a significant reduction in the overspending. We will see much deeper cuts before it is over or we will see complete failure of the economy to recover to pre-Obama levels.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | February 18, 2013 8:47 AM    Report this comment

It ain't not joke to the civilian employees of nearby MacDill Air Force base expecting layoffs in mid-March.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 18, 2013 1:21 PM    Report this comment

Last budget comment (I hope):

The problem for the military employees and others is the absolute refusal of the government to address the "Entitlements" that account for most of the federal spending. This includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Housing support, Welfare, and who knows how many other redistribution programs. These are designed to play "Robin Hood" -- take from the productive portion of the population and give to the unproductive. This will never completely end, but if it isn't cut back the end of the USA experiment in revolutionary democratic government is near.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | February 18, 2013 2:03 PM    Report this comment

As AVweb reported the cancellation of the Langley air show, so has Brig. Gen. Rothstein cancelled the bi-annual Luke AFB air show next month, and he sees no future for other bi-annual shows either. From my view, it's lame and poor planning to take away the high visibility connection with the public this way.

Costing around one half million, they could charge the now-free event $5 a head and bring in about $1 million, because I'm sure the 200,000 people would still show up, maybe even more.

I guess all the creative thinkers and doers are in places like the gov't. hospital where I work (no, I'm not in that group) that can fabricate prosthetic repair from auto parts and washing machines if needed, provided of course they're not let go. Much apprehension in the air today.

Posted by: David Miller | February 18, 2013 3:46 PM    Report this comment

Well, let's be realistic here. The government in general is simply not going to get creative and do more with less when faced with budget reductions. It will do less with less.

We are already hearing stories of FAA cert projects being shelved or delayed and the the serious cuts haven't started yet. I've heard Pete Bunce at GAMA twice warn his membership of what's coming.

I think you'll see service reductions in towers and the like by mid-year. (Maybe not a bad thing.) But the cert work is worrisome. A lot of small companies depend on timely approvals. No approvals will kill some of them.

Best we can hope for is some deal on the sequester that spreads the cuts out more equitably and responsibly. But they won't be eliminated.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 18, 2013 6:47 PM    Report this comment

On the bright side, maybe the FAA will conclude they just can't afford all the costs associated with the worthless 3rd class medical cert. Wouldn't it be welcome to all pilots if they just eliminated the requirement for the 3rd class in favor of a state driver's license?

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | February 18, 2013 7:02 PM    Report this comment

Paul, to expand on Frank's comments a little and answer your question: If the UAS (aircraft) stays line-of-sight to the operator and is NOT being flown for hire (make money) it is RC and typically does not have to comply with any FAA requirements.

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 22, 2013 9:50 AM    Report this comment

OK, example. This came up recently.

Along the East River an RC with a camera was buzzing around the UN building, looking into the windows, then flying along other sites along the East River.

It then crossed the East River, through the various helicopter traffic, and landed somewhere in Brooklyn. Probably was line of sight.

What of that? Any restrictions on it? Should there be?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 22, 2013 11:24 AM    Report this comment

Typically an RC model, if operated within the AMA guidelines would never be operated over or around structures, vehicles or individuals. I tried to link the AMA docs in my previous post but the links where dropped. Go to the AMA website modelaircraft.org and look at members & clubs/AMA documents. The referenced docs are 540-D See and Avoid Guidance, 550 First Person View (FPV) Operation and Advanced Flight Systems Committee Report 101 (including 550, 560, and FAQs). The type of irresponsible activity that you describe is fronded upon by most AMA members.

Posted by: Frank Phelps | February 22, 2013 12:12 PM    Report this comment

Frank, but isn't that the point? AMA is like USPA; self-policing. What do you do with the people who operate outside that, either for personal reasons or personal gain? Or perhaps who aren't members?

I submit that this hasn't really be addressed yet as this technology gets more widely deployed. Thought about, for sure, but not necessarily figured out.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 22, 2013 12:27 PM    Report this comment

Frank, I agree with you regarding 'responsible' RC operation and behavior and know people who operate RC and fly within those guidelines.

That said and to reply to Paul's comments/questions. Was this a good idea? NO - especially when you consider the helicopter traffic. However, does the local government have any laws reguating 'RC' within the city limits? I don't know. Anyone else?

Will anything be done about this example? Probably not unless there is a mid-air with a helicopter or someone in the building being 'checked out' complains. Even then you have to try and find the owner of the aircraft.

That said, on the more paranoid side, with this being the UN buiding I'm surprised the FBI, TSA, FAA, etc were not contacted check this out and be sure it was not someone connected with a group checking out the building with the intent of future harm (read whatever you want into that comment).

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 22, 2013 12:29 PM    Report this comment

All good points and I just wanted to point out that there is guidance out there concerning the core questions of Paul's. There is no amount of guidance or regulations from the AMA, FAA or any other organization that is going to stop stupid and irresponsible people from doing... well, stupid and irresponsible things.

Posted by: Frank Phelps | February 22, 2013 12:55 PM    Report this comment

All good points and I just wanted to point out that there is guidance out there concerning the core questions of Paul's. There is no amount of guidance or regulations from the AMA, FAA or any other organization that is going to stop stupid and irresponsible people from doing... well, stupid and irresponsible things.

Posted by: Frank Phelps | February 22, 2013 12:55 PM    Report this comment

I still feel the essence of the problem integrating UAVs and manned aircraft is to find a way to avoid midair collisions that really works. Fully implemented ADS-B in all aircraft would provide enough information. However, I don't think there is any provision in NextGen to get ADS-B equipment to complain loudly when a collision is a threat. This seems like a good idea whether the threat is another manned aircraft or an AUV.

For now, it seems the most likely threat area is close to the ground in populated areas. That suggests a "Keep out" area around established airports could go a long way to avoiding the collision problem as long as manned aircraft get above the active AUV altitude (1000 feet?) shortly after takeoff.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | February 22, 2013 1:35 PM    Report this comment

crop-dusting uav in the future? yamaha has been selling them since 1988. google yamaha crpo dusting r50.

Posted by: MICHAEL MUETZEL | February 26, 2013 8:40 AM    Report this comment

my dancing fingers meant yamaha CROP duster

Posted by: MICHAEL MUETZEL | February 26, 2013 9:00 AM    Report this comment


I agree and the altitude that has been in effect in since June 1981 in FAA document AC 91-57 has been 400 feet AGL within three miles of an airport. I believe that has recently been expanded to five miles from an airport and there is currently a move on to make that regulatory and not advisory

Posted by: Frank Phelps | February 28, 2013 10:06 AM    Report this comment

Add your comments

Log In

You must be logged in to comment

Forgot password?


Enter your information below to begin your FREE registration