The FAA’s Enormous Drone Problem

Last week the FAA released what it is calling its roadmap to integrate unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace system. In case you missed it, a UAS is what most of us call a drone, and the NAS is, well, essentially all of the airspace over the U.S.

The FAA is really acting under orders from Congress which has told the FAA to figure out how drones can be put to work quickly because so many businesses and government agencies want to use them. The Congressional deadline for the FAA to get drones flying is 2015.

The FAA “roadmap” to drone integration is more than 70 pages long and isn’t really much of a map of how to safely integrate drones but is a lengthy list of how many issues must be resolved. I actually feel sorry for the FAA. The task is nearly impossible, and the timeline is totally unrealistic.

The requirement is for the FAA to figure out how unmanned aircraft can share the same airspace with conventional aircraft without any degradation of safety to people in the air, or on the ground. And not a single rule or procedure is in place yet that achieves that goal.

As pilots our immediate concern is that the drone will be flying in the same airspace we use but the person in control of the drone is on the ground and potentially thousands of miles away. In some scenarios nobody may directly control the drone as many missions would be operating on a preprogrammed flight path. Avoiding a collision with the thing is our number one concern.

The FAA can’t just abandon the fundamental “see and avoid” collision rules we use without crushing the capacity of the airspace system. Visual approaches, and thus visual separation, are what make the VFR system possible, and are what add enormous capacity to the IFR system at busy airports on most days. When weather conditions keep pilots from flying visual approaches the capacity of an airport is cut by half or maybe even two thirds so if visual approaches were never possible the system would collapse.

To satisfy our number one priority as pilots the drones must have a “sense and avoid” system that is at least equal to the visual separation standards we conventional pilots use. Electronic collision avoidance equipment is already very good, but good enough to separate ourselves from other aircraft to fly “visual” approaches to a busy airport? Or for drones to operate in dense Class B airspace? I don’t think so.

What really prevents collisions in the airspace system more than see and avoid are procedures and ATC clearances. To get the most airplanes in and out of busy airports we all pretty much get in line so we know where we are going, and where the guy nearby is also headed. And controllers keep order. Think of the Fisk Arrival into Oshkosh and you get the picture.

Will drones need to fly on a clearance like anybody else under IFR or in regulated airspace? If so, that would detract a lot from their usefulness in flying to where whatever the surveillance or other task might be.

But there are even more fundamental issues with drones that must be resolved before they can equal the safety standard we have now. For example, what are the standards for structure, performance, flight path predictability and other issues that will help keep drones from hitting the ground and endangering the public? There are none yet.

Flying a drone over the prairie or some desolate border region is one thing, but many people are anxious to fly drones over the most densely populated parts of the country because that’s where many observation opportunities are. That means drones will be flying over our biggest cities and near our busiest airline airports. To be useful drones must be allowed into airspace that is off limits to student pilots or sport pilots. How much risk to people and property on the ground is acceptable and equal to our current risk level? Nobody knows.

There are no standards for drone pilots. What level of training and testing is necessary to maintain safety? What is a reasonable reliability standard for the communications link between the drone and its pilot? What happens if that link is lost? The drone can be programmed to fly autonomously, but where does it land? At an airport? An open field? Who knows?

Drone technology has put us at one of those points where what is possible bumps up against what is practical and acceptable. It’s obvious that drones are capable of flying just about any mission someone can think of, but will those missions maintain the current level of safety in the airspace system?

The FAA’s task in drone integration has been made even more difficult by the unprecedented safety improvements of airlines in the U.S. Passenger airline accidents have become so rare that the loss of one regional turboprop more than four years ago, tragic as it was, now has the power to incite Congressional demands for a major overhaul of airline pilot qualification and training. The safety bar has been set so unimaginably high and drones will have to fly with us without adding even the slightest new level of risk. The public and Congress will go crazy after the first drone wipes out airline passengers or a family on the ground.

The FAA roadmap discusses all of these issues and more. What it doesn’t offer are solutions, just the need for study and testing. The one enormous issue the FAA throws back to Congress is the loss of privacy drones can create. The FAA’s mission is to figure out how drones can share our airspace without adding any additional risk. The potential for mischief from drone spying is so enormous that new laws, and probably years worth of court cases, will be needed to erect protections that are acceptable.

Like I said, I feel sorry for the FAA having been handed this hot potato where the FAA can’t win but sure can lose.

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61 Responses to The FAA’s Enormous Drone Problem

  1. Glenn Darr says:

    a lot of these drones are tiny! How can we be expected to see these little 2 foot long things?

  2. There will be an anti-drone industry coming up. You can buy anti-drone weapons like: jaming devices, little rockets, rocket propelled nets, automatic airdefeance guns, armed flying interceptors, etc. to shoot down nasty drones that interfere your privacy, observe your businesses, approach a busy airport, etc. Let the fun begin!

    • Bill P says:

      Great observation (and don’t forget the value of being a good hand with a shotgun). Then we will also have to devise a nice, complicated set of legal rules over has the right to shoot down who’s drone, under what circumstances, who pays for the loss of the drone, or for the intrusion and loss of privacy caused by the presence of the drone, or for the drone going outside its permitted area, or for the drone falling on your property, etc. Let the legal games begin too!

      • Sarah A says:

        I saw something like this on TV. An animal Rights group were using an R/C hellicopter with a video link as a drone to spy on someone private property. A few well placed shotgun rounds brought that snooping to an end.

    • Bill Tomlinson says:

      Part of the trouble is that the word “drone” covers a huge varety of sizes. The biggest drone I know of was a converted Boeing 707, and there seems no obvious reason you couldn’t convert a 747.

      At the other end of the scale, the smallest drone I have ever seen (at the Farnborough SBAC show in England) would have fitted on the palm of my hand – and was made of perspex, so almost completely see-thru, and no radar return. It was electrically powered, so no infra-red. This was in the early 1990s, and I know they have become smaller still.

      If somebody snooped on you using the Farnborough drone you wouldn’t even know it was there, so forget all thoughts of shooting it down. Even if you did somehow know it was there it would be a mighty small and stealthy target: good luck!

      Turning to collision risks, hitting the little Farnborough drone would probably be like colliding with a small bird – a dove, say – and about as likely to cause serious harm.

      The converted 707 could, and probably would, be handled by the same system as manned 707s. So no problem there.

      It’s the sizes in between that worry me.

      • John Garrett says:

        “It’s the sizes in between that worry me”


      • Roger Halstead says:

        IIRC there have been two 707s that were RC controlled. Both ere on special and very restricted flight plans. At least one was flown manually by a crew who bailed out and the RC crew took over. Both were experiments where the aircraft were intentionality crashed. The first which was quite some time ago, had to do with fuel explosions and burning. The second which was recent was again an intentional crash related to survivability and G-forces. The second aircraft was carrying just enough fuel to perform the experiment so there was no fire.

        • Bill Tomlinson says:

          Quite right. But my point was really that very large drones are quite possible, and are likely to be used as soon as legal clearance is obtaned, initially for cargo, then for passenger flights as soon as the cargo flights have demonstrated that there is no additional hazard.

          Another example of large drones is that the USAF have converted a number of their B-47s, stored at Davis-Monthan, into drones. (They are called QB-47s.)

  3. Tom Davis says:

    The FAA ought to take a hard stance against these things. Just because businesses and government agencies want to use drones doesn’t mean the FAA should bow down and accommodate them. There are plenty of examples of circumstances in which a pilot/operator is restricted from operations in our current environment: wanna carry pax at night but you don’t meet the currency requirements? Tough; it’s unsafe, not allowed. Wanna carry pax for hire but ya only have a private certificate? Tough! Not allowed.
    The FAA should set standards for drone operators at least as tough as those required of the rest of us pilots. Put the burden on drone users to demonstrate that they can operate in a way that doesn’t endanger anyone. If drone operators can’t measure up, tough. Tell Congress (and overzealous business owners) to take a hike.

    • Sarah A says:

      This whole thing is driven by dollars. There are a lot of people out there that think they can make a lot of money out of this new industry. They put a lot of dollars into politicians pockets and demand that they be turned loose to pursue their dreams of wealth. That is what is driving this big push, not a real overpowering need. Just think of the proliferation of these drones, all sizes and performance ranges. Back in the 50′s there were dreams of aircraft / helicopters taking the place of teh family car. It would have been a nightmare for the airspace system but a dream compared to what could be coming.

      The FAA recently busted a commercial operation for using an R/C type aircraft to make a promotional video. The maneuvers that were described sound like an huge threat to persons and property on the ground. Just wait till anyone with enough money, and enough disrespect for law and safety, can do the same. Think of these drones buzzing around any outside event or gathering. There are residents in the LA area complaining about helicopter noise, just wait untill the drones are buzzing overhead !!!

      • Roger Halstead says:

        Many of these so called drones are small and almost silent. Some using multiple rotors driven by electric motors are very light as well. They are quiet and difficult to see. Unless moving fast the only real physical danger is the props.

        But the size, difficult to see, and quiet makes them ideal for invading a persons privacy.
        I think many operators would have difficulty staying away from airports.

        • Sarah A says:

          I doubt that the average operator will have very much training, if any at all, with respect to airspace and regulations. They are small, can be launched almost anywher at any time and just as quickly go away. It will be impossible to impose any regulation on them once they get loose. It was pointed out in the main article that most of the places they will want to be are the densely populated areas and most likely near an airport. Most will probably take the attitude “It is so small and there is so much airspace how could my drone pose a hazard to those big airliners”. Only the operators of the larger drones will be controllable to any extent because of the footprint their operations create will be easier to detect.

  4. Marc Rodstein says:

    Tom Davis is right on. The know-nothings in Congress have vastly underestimated the task they have given FAA, and set an impossible deadline. FAA should tell them that and refuse to play along.

  5. Bill P says:

    All certified drone operators should have to have medicals! Suppose they have a heart attack while flying and drop their hands from their joysticks? Or their eyesight isn’t up to snuff and they can’t see their computer screens?

    Okay, maybe give them a pass if they’re operating a light sport drone, but only so long as they’ve never had their medical denied.

  6. Roger Halstead says:

    It even gets more complicated as many of these so called drones are nothing more than model RC airplanes sold as drones which live and operate under a different set of rules and altitude limitations.

    Because the use and potential for catastrophe exists with UAVs Licensing of the pilots “to me” is essential as is liability to the owner and operator. I wod go so far as to put the pilot requirements at least as high as private (not sport or light plane) if not more stringent.

    Then we have to be careful not to lump RC models in with these.

    I agree that the FAA should take the time (all that is needed) to get this right. We’ve already seen the results of a system installed under an unrealistic deadline and the consequences of Drones mixing it up with the “big boys” is far more immediate than the ACA

  7. Ricardo says:

    They should also put restrictions on drone materials and drone total weight so if an air collision occurs it will minimize catastrophic results. A limit on top flight altitude will also avoid air to air collisions but it will increase risk on ground population and property.

    • Roger Halstead says:

      Now you are talking model airplanes with altitude limitations. However, those models run from less than a pound to several hundred pounds capable of speeds in excess of a couple hundred miles per hour.

      Even a 1# model ingested into a large jet engine might be catastrophic. Many models run much heavier and faster than some of the tiny drones.

    • Robert Jans says:

      I believe that even a (very) light drone can do harmful damage: just imagine you hit it with the wooden prop of your homebuilt: a piece of prop gets ripped out, prop balance is out the window and an off-airport landing is necessary to avoid further calamity. Even rain erodes a wooden prop in a matter of hours!

      • Roger Halstead says:

        Even landing the Bo with nose held high like a tail dragger on slushy runways, or doing a soft field take off from said runways can put some nasty nicks in a prop. sometimes too much to dress out. That’s just a tiny chip of ice.

        I flew from Midland MI to Odhkosh with a Cozy on a day with lots of showers. I thought I was going to wear out the vernier on the throttle. The military has stringent training, but those operators may be operating drones larger and much faster than most og thr GA fleet. The same can not be said for drones flown by civilians. There are NO requirements to control/pilot one. They are likely(hopefully) to be much smaller and slower that the typical drones used by the military. Even the ones used for open range surveillance by ranchers should be much smaller. Corporations? I’m not so sure.

        Then there is traffic surveillance which would be done at roughly a NORDO IFR flight (IFR = I follow roads) in this case. I’ve done it many tomes in a Bo, just to watch the scenery. Ever do that and meet someone going the other way? They go from a dot, to recognizing them as an airplane in a few seconds . From that point, till they pass is only a second or two. It’s so quick, you might have time to flinch.Thankfully most follow to the right side of the road, but passing a few hundred feet apart like that can be breathtaking. then there’s the smaller, quieter stuff used to keep track of what’s going on in cities. How close will they get to airport traffic patterns? I’ve had a forced landing from nothing more than a large song bird plugging the airflow between the cylinders on a Cherokee 180.

        BTW, I was departing O6 at KIKW many years back and as I lowered the nose on climb our All I could see was rivets on the under side of a 737 flying through our pattern. Actually about 200 feet less than pattern altitude. We were probably no more than 10-15 feet apart and would have collided had I not lowered the nose when I did as he was in my blind spot. Scared the people on the ground, more than it did me because they saw it a bit before I did. I didn’t have time. So these things do happen.

        Now throw in a bunch of stuff from the size of model airplanes to small private plane with no regulations and likely flown by individuals with little or no concept of air traffic rules and in numbers that are likely to dwarf the number in the GA fleet and it gets scary to me.

        Most of these carry little more than a camera. Don’t confuse these with the UAVs used by the military in performance, pay load, operator proficiency, or the ability to recognize other aircraft in the area. Because of the differences in size, distance is almost impossible to estimate let alone do it quickly.

        At present any one with a few hundred dollars can buy and fly one. When it comes to the small ones it will be almost impossible for the FAA to control them

  8. Brian P says:

    I think you would be able to guess the end result, “if you like your airspace you can keep it, if you like your controller, you can keep him”, sound familiar???? Were the low man in the food chain so when the FAA comes back with ” we can’t make this happen with all the other aircraft” you and I will no longer have any airspace to use for the “betterment” of the country. I really hope Im dead wrong but time will tell.

  9. phil g says:

    How long after a 747 ingests one of these devices before the FAA realise that they have a much bigger problem than they first thought.

  10. Sarah A says:

    Just think of the surprise when you here a noise outside your hose and the Google drone is over your yard circling your house to get a complete 360 view. As long as it does not touch the ground it is not actually on your property. These small drones represent a huge invasion of private property. You say they are passing laws against this sort of stuff ? These drones will be inexpensive and widly available so how do you even track them back to their owner if they start staring into your bedroom window. That might sound a bit far fetched but these days it seems like any outrage is possible. And please stop calling them “Pilots”. A pilot sits in the aircraft they are controlling and has a vested interest in conducting a safe flight, an “Operator” sits in a control room far removed and has no such vested interest, and probably no where near the level of training.

  11. William McIntosh says:

    Like it or not, drones are here to stay and to multiply. In the future, passenger-carrying drones will be noted by four stripes painted on the fuselage, which will signify that the operator has soloed a Cessna 150. Those carrying passengers , but with three stripes painted on the fuselage, will denote an operator who has had x-box training.

    All operators will be required to be at least 12 years of age…

    Seriously…? Operator training for military drones is very intensive, but the Big Sky Theory will probably work best for the rest of them…and let’s not get all militant about the little ones. They can be equipped to carry more than a camera….live and let live would probably be the best idea.

    • Robert Jans says:

      and those with two stripes have ever been in an airplane and those with one stripe know somebody who has been near an airplane.

      • Roger Halstead says:

        And just how close do we have to get to see the pilots qualifications when it may have a 2 or 3′ wing span? <:-))

  12. Stu Baxter says:

    Now if we can get Mack’s article reprinted everywhere……this is the best most intelligent article I have seen to date. Now get the WSJ to print it Mack.

  13. TedK says:

    Privacy?? Anything operating at less than 91.119 distances presents a potential threat to persons and property. One should engage accordingly.

    No new rules needed.

  14. Tom Davis says:

    The key to fighting this is to get the airlines involved. The general public doesn’t know or care much about sport aviation; if a Sonex or Citabria gets brought down by a collision with a drone it will barely make the local news. But just the threat of a 757 or Airbus crash is enough to get everyone’s attention. Major news stories have been run about airline pilots being temporarily blinded by laser while on approach, and law enforcement takes that threat very seriously. Make the public aware that every airline flight is in grave danger of being brought down by UAV’s, and the public outcry will be too great for lawmakers to ignore.

  15. Joe Cointreau says:

    Did anyone from the FAA bother to ask these Congress people how they will feel when an uncertified 100 pound drone drops on their daughter swinging on her swing in the backyard?

  16. John Garrett says:

    My own little nightmare is how FPV (First Person View) now allows every RC modeler who wants to spring the bucks to fly a quadcopter or other fairly inexpensive, really hard to see model in a virtual manner, in other words, they don goggles or look at an LCD screen and see what the model flies.
    I’m stoked on this myself and want to get into it…but I started thinking while wearing my other hat (private pilot) and the scenarios started flying out of my brain like winged monkeys.
    There are hundreds of thousands of RC flyers in the U.S. I’m one of them. I’ve seen some modelers on YouTube who’se set up models with lots of battery mojo, gps, gyro and they’ve made 80 km flights far above the clouds and of course well out of sight of the operator.
    All hell is about to break loose, folks, as tech waves do, at breakneck speed. This sport is still somewhat under the public radar but as ever cheaper, ready-built FPV flood the market we’ll be swatting these things away like bees…or shooting at them.
    There are laws that prohibit such a thing, but the first time somebody cranks one up and flies it into the intake of engine #3 of Jet Blue flight 98 on takeoff, FAA will have a far bigger problem than just the one Mac describes in his excellent consideration of this huge and growing technology.
    Batten down the hatches, citizens! Not only is privacy in jeopardy for one and all, but I think we’re going to see terrorists and lots of blockheaded hobbyists creating a real problem for private and commercial flights alike.
    Of course I hope not…but I’ve seen enough of human nature to believe otherwise.

    • Roger Halstead says:

      Cameras (still and video) have long been used in RC models. There are U-Tube videos, looking in windows. There are others where hams have used them to inspect antennas instead of climbing which is particularly handy at my age. RC models have been used for good and not so good tasks since they were able to carry a camera.
      One good thing is that these new so called “drones” are small, light. (on the order of a couple pounds), and quiet. Of course their size varies from tiny, light, and quiet, to large and fast.

      However now days you can get a quad copter for a few hundred dollars and inspect your antennas with out all the work previously required. The problem comes when hundreds, or thousands of these things are in the air and many are misuse by individuals and government agencies.. I don’t believe full size Helicopters are bound by any altitude rule over cities except being able to find a safe place to land in case of problems.

      I’m both an instrument rated private pilot with several thousand hours and a ham who would like one of those quad copters to inspect the antenna arrays.

      Age, two strokes, and a heart attack have caused me to hang it up and sell the airplanes. After the first stroke, I managed to get my medical back (with no restrictions) in two years and even managed to get the story published in the ABS journal. Unfortunately they didn’t find what was causing them until *after* the second one. At that point, I made the decision to give up flying. Unfortunately, my tower climbing is also done.

  17. Bob says:

    The only # 3 engines on any jetblue aircraft would be the APU; however, that in itself could also be pretty messy.

  18. Dave Beck says:

    I read all of these comments and I feel sad for people like me who build and fly model airplanes. I’ve built and flew a model airplane with video, GPS moving map with way point navigation all home made and with the help of other fellow radio amateurs in the 1990s. This exercise was undertaken to set FAI records for model airplane flight. At that time few cared.

    So the point of this is that I make experimental aircraft just like you guys do. Yet if one of mine falls out of the sky it won’t kill someone one the ground and the operator as well as your experimental aircraft can and do with some regularity. Now I’m not against you guys flying 1000 lb buz saws around the sky and in very close proximity to big cities. Rather I would someday like to do it myself! So let’s see if we can work this out and both coexist. It makes me sad to see very few posts saying anything near lets work it out.
    Afterall Eaa looks on model flight as a feeder to their ranks. You pilots regularly give young eagle flight and this a noble cause. So lets not screw it up with the airspace is all mine approach. Unless you just fly over your own land, you better learn to share it with other dreamers, like Burt Rutan for example.

    • Mike G says:

      Thank you for being a rational example in a sea of hyperbole. Let’s drop the chicken little and tinfoil, please. You can gnash teeth or engage your minds and contribute to a solution. Like it or not, this technology is not going away and is going to continue to grow. Technological innovations like this are what allow us to enjoy sport flying today.

  19. Bob Kay, Seattle says:

    I believe the entire civil flying community – from air transport to general aviation need to unite through all our respective organizations to present one straightforward message: No UAS in National Air Space unless equipped with solid, proven, and certified Sense and Avoid Systems. If it can’t be so equipped it doesn’t fly.

    If all lettered flying orgs put this mandate out to US lawmakers and the FAA, in a solid and united front, we could make it happen. Think of the enormous political power that a combined stand from ALPA, AOPA, EAA, AMA, GAMA, NBAA, etc. could bring to this issue.

    The manufacturers of the unmanned aircraft systems don’t want the added expense of designing and certifying Sense and Avoid technology into their machines. That would mean much higher end costs to users. The technology is out there; it can designed, developed and perfected. Every excuse is being tossed out to deny Sense and Avoid, from denying it’s possible, claiming it’s too expensive, too unreliable, etc. The bottom line driving the development of the UAS machines is profit. The desire for profit over safety is hindering work on Sense and Avoid.

    We need to present an ultimatum to decision makers: Sense and Avoid is the only way we’ll accept these machines into our National Air Space — period! Anything short of that will be unsafe and unacceptable.

    Bob Kay, Seattle, WA

  20. Bill Tomlinson says:

    Take a look at this:

    and then reflect that it was written in 1992!

    Seems to me it covers most of the issues. (Remember that in 1992 GPS had only just been invented.)

  21. Jason Depew says:

    I have several hundred combat hours operating manned ISR aircraft in close proximity with Air Force UAS over Afghanistan and other places. Make no mistake: these aircraft are technologically incapable of safely operating in the same airspace as manned aircraft!

    Ask any pilot with combat time in the recent wars and he or she will be able to tell you a story of almost dying due to a UAS. I have 2 specific examples, plus a lot of other stories of UAS stupidity. Part of the problem is that they’re cheap because they don’t bother to look outside. They fly the whole time through a soda straw staring at the ground. Tough to see and avoid that way.

    Another problem is that the Operators of these systems forget that they’re supposed to be Pilots. The USAF ones who are rated pilots with real wings on their chests tend to “forget” what being a pilot means or something. They start assuming that they can go places and do things without a clearance…completely oblivious to any other aircraft, international borders or other hazards out there. Worse yet are the Operators like the Army Privates who have never been near a cockpit in their lives. They’ll operate on pattern ground track at pattern altitude yet they don’t even know the meaning of terminology like: “downwind,” “base” and “final.” They are taught how to Operate a machine, but are taught nothing of being a pilot. That’s the cheap way to do things and every police department, fire department and commercial syping company in the world will gravitate toward that methodology.

    I’ve been a long proponent of some strict rules for UAS Operators:
    1. They must hold commercial pilot and instrument ratings. They’re getting paid to fly aircraft in the same airspace as the rest of us, so they need to be commercial pilots. The instrument part is necessary because they can’t see outside most of the time and they need to be able to fly with the precision of IFR.

    2. They must always operate on an IFR clearance. That’ll include radio contact with a controlling agency. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen UAS Operators give up trying to talk to controllers and just do their own thing…when there were manned aircraft in the way.

    3. They must have always have a transponder and it has to be turned on at all times. They must be equipped with a TCAS that provides TA and RA and they must obey.

    4. They must always have aircraft lighting on.

    5. They need a flying currency requirement that mandates they operate a manned aircraft in the same airspace as the UAS systems they operate and in the same airspace as manned aircraft. This is absolutely necessary to help them remind the potential hazards we will face every day flying near them. They must get the visceral reactions of that experience if we have any hope of them remembering how important it is for them to adhere to their clearances and do everything in their power to be safe.

    That’s just a start. I’ve been advocating these points for a long time. I consider them to be the bare minimum foundation for safe UAS operations. This doesn’t even address that our current technology is completely incapable of giving a poor UAS operator even a fraction of the Situational Awareness that he or she needs to safely and conscientiously operate with other manned aircraft. My points will still apply no matter what technology we develop in the future though.

    • Roger Halstead says:

      Unfortunately they can come up with these regulations and I agree with them, but and here’s the kicker. I view this like the CB craze. There were so many violators that the government gave up. At any one time there were thousands of them. any time something catches the public’s eye and they go for it in mass, control goes out the window.

      Like anything technical, Or that requires operating in a controlled environment they are completely clueless. Look at the number off starts on training for the PPL and the small number that finish. Some of that is financial. Some, or maybe it’s many never learn to fly by “the feel of the airplane”. Most, even old airplanes tell you what’s going on, their speed, and control through the stick, or yoke , and seat of the pants. This is particularly true if you only fly one make and model unless you put in a fair amount of time. Yet the number of pilots who fly mechanically is surprising.

      I flew an old Debonair, but not much was stock or original. It was a good 15 knots faster and had about 400-500 fpm climb on the original with the same fuel burn.. It not only was old, “they” tell me it was the first off the assembly line with a S# of CD-2. Most of the parts say CD-1. I let a lot of pilots fly it who wanted to “move up” from a 172 or Cherokee . Most pilots would be in a PIO within 30 seconds of taking the controls. I knew they were watching the VSI instead of looking outside. The plane had one other quirk that took “feel” to handle properly. It had no washout in the wing tips. When it stalled it really stalled and if you used the ailerons to raise a wing you would quickly roll inverted. It “wanted to drop a wing and roll into a spin just doing straight ahead stalls. Accelerated stalls in steep turns were easy, but if not coordinated on the break, which was abrupt, it would either roll bottom wing under or top wing to the out side. Even explaining ahead of time, I never had one pilot who could even master the straight ahead stall. Even the instructor who checked me out in it could not master stalls with that wing. It was easy if you understood the plane.

      The point is, that very few from the general public ever learn the traffic control system, let alone being able to do “stick and rudder” flying and of these, how many flying VFR bother to develop a scan looking for other aircraft instead of relying on “the big sky” to keep them alive. I don’t know how many times I came out of the clouds on approach to see VFR traffic, scud running “from close up”

      Now we throw thousands UAVs out there with unknowing and unconcerned operators running small and untraceable Drones into the system. You can put stickers in the box and on the parts that say “warning, requires FAA license to fly Operating without incenses will subject the operator to large fines, confiscation of drone, and possible incarceration.”
      A few might pay attention, but I predict that most would just ignore them. Catch a few and make examples of them and the general response would be, “Poor Bas**** wasn’t careful and got caught” IOW his crime was getting caught.
      That will be the mentality of most drone operators that we have to deal with. We could require licenses at the point of sale, but that would open a market for straw purchasers.

      IOW I see no safe way of incorporating a mass intrusion of these small drones until there is a major catastrophe and even then, the response will be “I’ll just be careful
      to not get caught.

    • Mike G says:

      The thing is, a commercial certificate allows you to carry passengers for compensation or hire. We are a *long* way off to unmanned aircraft in that area. If I have a remotely-piloted aircraft that I want to use for aerial photography, for example, a full commercial certificate is overkill. I agree there needs to be some oversight but the manned system does not translate to the unmanned world one-to-one.

      Continuing the previous example, say I want to use a remotely-piloted aircraft to survey a multi-acre commercial property. I will be operating a few hundred feet AGL away from an airport environment. I still need an IFR flight plan? (and ignoring the complete charlie-foxtrot that is NextGen)

      I want to survey a large agricultural site with that same aircraft, say a large corn field. I need TCAS?

      This aircraft could be fixed-wing, helicopter, multicopter, or something else entirely. The technology is evolving at a rapid pace and the government will struggle to keep up if they don’t expand their thinking.

      • John Garrett says:

        Good example of the potential thousands of scenarios to come. Lots of good comments above, which illustrates how we’re perceiving the iceberg…and concerned about what’s hidden beneath.
        I don’t usually like to speculate on all the things that can go wrong when something as broad-reaching as private citizens flying drones is about to become an everyday reality…only because in the end I tend to feel woefully unimaginative when it becomes clear how far I fell short of the mark in envisioning all the crazy stuff that actually happened.
        Cases in point: shoe bombers, personal computers, cell phones, 3D printing (including the forthcoming bio-printing revolution which among many other things will create vaccine (and drug) formulas emailable anywhere in the world and “printed” for personal use or consumption), body piercing and tattoos, electric aircraft etc etc. What a crazy exciting colorful dangerous chaotic kaleidoscopic world human innovation has brought us.

      • Jason Depew says:

        I absolutely agree it’ll be tough to regulate. I like the idea of an industry of anti-UAS systems. Do I need an STC to strap a really big fly swatter to my wingtip?

        The difference between regulating CBs and regulating UAS is that an unauthorized CB user doesn’t result in an aircraft and possibly a building being destroyed and people dying. That will absolutely happen and I think the non-flying public will respond to that. I think privacy is also going to be a big concern and it can be used to the advantage of safety.

        The primary purpose of a commercial certificate is carrying some passengers, but it’s more than that. A private pilot isn’t allowed to act as PIC for compensation or hire…even on a survey mission. I think a commercial ticket is even reasonable.

        The thing about a small UAS doing a survey of an agricultural field is that the UAS operator needs know whether or not he or she is operating near an airport where the aircraft would present a conflict. Flying at 400′ on final or departure leg is just as deadly as flying anywhere else. Unless they hold a pilot’s license they won’t even know how to know if they’re in a place where they pose a threat. I know a lot of airports surrounded by corn and soybean fields….

        I’m still firm about IFR clearances. They need to be on a frequency with someone who has a bigger picture than they do. They need to be obligated to obey someone’s instructions if a conflict develops. In the US, the only options for that are IFR clearances or restricted areas and TFRs.

        • Roger Halstead says:

          With the CB analogy you are confusing the regulating with the worst case results. I maintain when the unknowing and uncaring, clueless general public goes after something in a big way, regulating it is pretty much hopeless. As I said with the analogy, They can’t see how it would apply to them if they were careful

          You could draw a line and regulate the larger, faster drones, but a 2 pounder? Even 5 and 10# models are common. There are more than a few jet powered models that likely tip the scales at 40 or 50 pounds.
          or much more.
          There is a racing class where it takes two men to hold the model during run-up and they top 200 MPH. Those are big, heavy, and fast. Where and how do you draw the line? Make it too small and you not only include most RC models, the general public will not pay attention. Make it too large and some rancher may fly his right through a 210 loaded with a family. Regulate them according to geographic areas such as so many people per square mile? Regulate it if they put a camera in it? That would include many model airplanes now days. Require TCAS and a transponder? How do you put TCAS in a model of even 10#? You don’t with today’s technology. Transponders have been stripped out of the “box” and put in models for altitude flights just as they do for balloons.
          How do you differentiate between a drone and an RC model? Can you differentiate? Is it possible except for use? Even picking what and how to regulate is complicated.

          We understand the ramifications, but the public does not.

          Still even a tiny, electric RC model could seriously damage if not destroy a large jet engine. RC modelers have been a well disciplined group with an outstanding safety record. Regulation should not throw out an all inclusive net.

  22. Bill Tomlinson says:

    Sorry folks. Meant to include this link n my earlier post:

  23. Joe Cointreau says:

    I used a bit of hyperbole to make my point but my words were chosen carefully. The key word was uncertified. You’re mostly pilots yet you are focused on the least risky aspect of these things – that they might run into you. I worked on the Shadow system, and the lack of engine reliability, use of hardware store parts, and marginal controllability would make you blanch. Note that the FAA was charged with making them fit in the National Airspace. Who was charged with cerification and ensuring basic safety standards in the construction, maintenance and reliability of the civilian UAS?

  24. Robert Jans says:

    1. A possible solution to get decent drone pilots on the ground, sitting back sipping coffee, is to have them fly as a PIC of a real airplane in the same airspace and during the same time that drones are also active piloted by their buddies. So half the crew fly the real stuff mixed with the other half sitting on the ground flying the drones. A few days later your reverse the selection and so on. Instead of going all drone at once, you start with half and half.

    2. My fear with all this is the following. The FEDs, especially the out of hand Homeland Security and TSA, in the name of “it’s for your own security” will push this unmanned disaster forward. That’s the end of VFR and fun flying; maybe restricted to a few places far away and below 1200 AGL or something, to proove that it’s not outlawed!.

  25. Bob Kay, Seattle says:

    I’ll have to agree with Robert Jans’ comment # 2. When law enforcement decides that general aviation is in their way and the airspace is too crowded for their operations, we will be the losers and will be excluded from various airspaces at various times. Sound familiar? Like in TFRs and their growing use and expanding size? I’m all for security, however many TFRs are getting not so temporary. Add UA systems to the present equation and the restrictions will expand.

    Earlier, contributor Jason Depew wrote — “Make no mistake: these aircraft are technologically incapable of safely operating in the same airspace as manned aircraft!” That may be the way it is/was in battlefield airspace, however, it doesn’t have to be that way in US airspace.

    The UA systems are coming and we can’t stop them — all we can hope to do is to keep our airspace open, free, and safe. UA systems should not fly without certified and reliable Sense and Avoid systems on board. That is possible if made a mandated objective. If left to their own ways, the manufacturers of UA systems will take the path of least resistance in order to maximize sales and profits.

    The manufacturers will say that it’s not feasible, the technology is not available, etc; however, the truth is that they don’t want to invest in National Airspace safety because it will cut into sales due to higher prices.

    A major part of the production costs of building airplanes is the certification process. The development and testing of certified Sense and Avoid systems for UA systems would be enormous. These costs would be passed to the purchasers, making the UA systems very expensive to purchase when compared to not requiring Sense and Avoid.

    All aviators and the general flying public must immediately present an unwavering mandate to the Congress and the FAA: No UA systems will operate in US airspace without a fully functioning & certified Sense and Avoid system on board.

    I would submit that the AOPA needs to take the lead on this and immediately bring all major lettered aviation organizations into a coalition to put the issue before the general public, the FAA, and the Congress.

  26. Tom Davis says:

    To Dave Beck and Mike G.: You’re right, and I apologize for presenting such an “all or nothing” tone. I don’t want to take away your right to fly RC craft. There’s an RC field within a mile of the airport where I learned to fly. The local RC’ers have always respected the airport and vice versa.
    I think what many of us on this forum fear is that there will be a surge of new UAV operators who have never been part of the traditional RC community. Particularly in cases where they see a chance to make a profit, some (maybe many) of them will feel free to go anywhere, at any altitude, with disregard for the fact there are live people in those other planes up there. They could spoil the party for all of us.

  27. Dave Bonkowski says:

    Drone operators don’t have any skin in the game.

    That means they don’t have the same incentive to avoid collisions that pilots do. That sums up my biggest worry.

  28. Dana says:

    The unsaid problem is that a drone pilot is not in the aircraft. If the drone hits an airplane with passengers, its a non event for the drone pilot. For the airplane with passengers? Not so good. There is a huge divergence in risk profiles. One of the reasons why see and avoid works is because as pilots, we know the consequences if you hit another airplane.

  29. Richard says:

    Want to keep these midget missiles out of the sky? Just explain to your congressperson just how easy it will be for terrorists to put a bunch of them through every office window in the congressional office buildings.

    • Bill Tomlinson says:

      Trouble is, it will be a bit like The War On Drugs (or Prohibition before that) or the law that says no sex before age 16/18/whatever: a law which is disliked and disobeyed by a huge segment of the population is well-nigh unenforceable.

  30. Sarah A says:

    It would seem that most commenters expectthe flood of drones to be little more then upscale versions of whet the R/C crowd operates. The manufactures of military hardware will be pushing their products very hard and a lot of them are somewhat bigger. Just think what it will be like when various county, state amd federal agencies start operating civilian versions for the Predator drone. For those not up on the drone market a Predator is LSA sized, even uses a Rotax 914 engine. Can you imagine the danger of having something that big buzzing around operated by a non pilot, probably with no transponder or TCAS. Our friends in CBP (yes the people who have been stopping and harrassing pilots) are already operating these along the border and will surely expand away into the heartland if allowed. Check out if you want to see what will be buzzing around in the same airspace as the rest of us.

  31. Sarah A says:

    Today in a newsletter I get from AIAA I saw a blurb from a blog that is asking why the skies over the Philippines are not full of drones. Could the reason be that having all those drones blindly flying around in airspace that is busy with manned aircraft doing the important job of saving lives would pose too much danger. This forum has heard from experienced military pilots on the danger of mixing drones into airspace used by manned aircraft and this is just another confirmation of that reality. These drones have no capability to See and Avoid other aircraft which makes them a danger. For those who want to read the article try this link:

    • Bill Tomlinson says:

      Seems to me that in the narrow situation of the Philippines it should be easy enough to come up with a formula like “drones below 200 feet agl, everybody else above that height”

    • Roger Halstead says:

      Generally, at least stateside, emergency areas become prohibited except for aircraft involved id S & R, supply drops, or directly involved with the emergency..

      • Bill Tomlinson says:

        As I understand it, the only reason drones would be there would be to help with the emergency relief operation.

        Much would depend on exactly what sort of help they would be tasked to give. For pure reconnaisance, just reverse my original scenario: drones above x feet; everybody else below that.

        Presumably in the Philippines situation the drones would come under the same command as the manned aircraft. So, if it became necessary to clear a space – e.g. for a C130 to do a parachute drop of supplies – the drone operators would be told to clear the area in exactly the same way as the pilots of manned aircraft. No problem.

  32. John Garrett says:

    Re my comment above about RC model drones using FPV, here’s a blog post from last March about an airline pilot having a reasonably close encounter with one — probably closer than he realized because he thought it was a meter across and it was more likely a foot to 18″ across — as he was landing at JFK.

    • Imane says:

      Both air space and the internet are pluibc areas which carry a low expectation of privacy. Drones simply make it easier for the powers that be to use and misuse this low expectation. 40 years ago the no-knock warrant was considered by many to be unconstitutional and invasive, with the law enforcement folks saying it was necessary to stop druggies from flushing evidence. Now it is used everywhere and against almost everyone. Why?, because it’s easier. People take the path of least resistance. Drones will be used domestically, and they will also be misused in the same venue. Stopping anyone from using this technology is a step down the path toward having our planes declared drones and banned. Sorry LR, but I think our expectations of privacy are over optimistic. Also please define your method of readjusting the system. Bloody revolution? Right-wing,smaller government? Readjusting a complex system comes at a high cost.

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