AIN Blog: Mark Another Milestone For Mainstreaming Drones

DJI Inspire 2 quadcopter
The DJI Inspire 2 quadcopter rests on the stage at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit. (Photo: Measure via

Chalk up another inroad for drones in the world of mainstream aviation. On March 2, a DJI Inspire 2 operated by Measure, the “drone as a service” company, deftly delivered the winning raffle envelope at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit in Washington, D.C.

Hundreds of attendees were delighted as Ronney Miller, Measure’s director of flight operations, piloted the buzzing quadcopter over a path that had been cleared from the rear to the front of the ballroom at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. Measure media specialist Grant Lowenfeld worked the camera gimbal. An insert mounted in the SSD slot in the aft of the drone carried the envelope, which held two round-trip United Airlines tickets. Chamber master of ceremonies Carol Hallett, who formerly headed the Air Transport Association of America (now Airlines for America) and United CEO Oscar Munoz watched gleefully as the $5,000-plus Inspire 2 and camera ensemble settled to the stage.

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Google partners with NASA to develop unmanned aircraft

Is it a bird, a plane, a UFO? According to a new agreement between Google and NASA, unmanned flying objects of all sorts may now buzz around NASA Ames Research Center.

In June, NASA Ames management signed an agreement allowing Google to test autonomous, unmanned vehicles at NASA Ames, which not only allows Google’s self-driving cars to be tested at Ames, but also aircraft. It coincides with news last week that Google has been developing drone technology over the last two years with its “Project Wing” a wing-shaped drone that is able to fly across a city to deliver packages, called an effort to compete with Amazon’s development of drones to help deliver goods purchased online.

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Role of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Continues to Expand

The US military continues unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) research, with a focus on reconnaissance and surveillance to combat-ready systems 

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is a controversial topic that the U.S. military and lawmakers are currently discussing on a more frequent basis.

Despite the controversy, there is still a large amount of global development for the popular new aircraft, capable of being used for a number of different campaigns.

The United States Marine Corps is testing the small and portable RQ-11 Raven UAV to scout out local geography and surveillance for M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks – and tank-UAV pairings could become more commonplace on the battlefield.

Here is what Cpl. Peter Richter, Scout and TOW platoon, 2nd Tanks, Raven operator noted to: 

“The Ravens give you a good birds-eye view, they receive reconnaissance that can be too far out to see. They also are very good for locating and navigating bad terrain such as swamps.”

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Experts discuss legal impact of potential UAS industry boom

Dayton officials expect the unmanned aerial systems industry to explode in the next few years, which means new legal issues will accompany the burgeoning industry.  A search for aviation law experts doesn’t bring up a lot of names in the Dayton area, but that could soon change.

Dayton officials expect the unmanned aerial systems industry to explode in the next few years, which means new legal issues will accompany the burgeoning industry.

Since unmanned aircraft is the fastest growing sector of the aviation industry, aviation law experts will need to dive into the intricacies of UAS law, which could touch on areas from privacy law to regulatory issues to patent law.

Bob Hanseman, a partner with Sebaly Shillito and Dyer and chair of the government contracts practice, said if the Dayton area becomes a designated test site for unmanned aircraft, it would lead to a boom in the local legal industry focused on aviation law.

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NC State steps up drone testing ahead of 2015 launch

The state that was once home to the world’s first aviators is now launching efforts to use pilotless planes in agriculture and other industries.

Unmanned aerial vehicles – commonly known as drones or UAVs – are widely used in the military. But as their civil applications become clear, N.C. State University and its transportation research centers are working to make the state a leader in UAV technology before 2015, the year UAVs may officially assume their place in the nation’s airspace.

Civil UAVs are far smaller and much less destructive than military drones.

With wingspans of just a few feet, they’re often launched by hand and outfitted with remote sensing equipment designed to collect detailed data from the air. UAVs are able to produce nuanced images of large land areas, rendering them particularly useful for commercial agriculture and geographic surveys.

Army asks Norwegian company to design Black Hornet pocket UAV helicopter for foot soldiers

U.S. Army researchers are asking a Norwegian company to develop a pocket-sized helicopter drone to provide a personal reconnaissanceunmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for infantrymen and Special Forces warfighters.

Officials of the Army Contracting Command in Natick, Mass., are awarding a $2.5 million contract to Prox Dynamics AS of Nesbru, Norway, to develop the Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System (PRS) — a one-pound force-protection micro UAV for soldiers and small infantry units.

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Flying Drones in U.S. Airspace Not as Easy as It Looks

The military makes it look like a videogame. Pilots sit in front of a bank of computer monitors, press buttons and push joysticks to guide the drones.

If the military can do it so well in war zones, how hard can it be to fly unmanned aircraft in U.S. airspace?

Apparently not as simple as it might appear, unmanned aviation experts say. Although drones are now more technologically advanced and, theoretically, safer than they’ve ever been to operate in congested airspace, more research and tests are needed before they should be allowed to populate the skies, these experts note.

A highly anticipated unmanned aviation boom hangs on future decisions by the Federal Aviation Administration. The agency faces a 2015 congressionally mandated deadline to lay out a plan for integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace.

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. James O. Poss says he is often asked why the government needs so much time and effort to test the safety of drones that the military has been flying for years. “Why don’t we just transfer those same rules to the national airspace?” Poss asks during a recent Mississippi State University webinar.

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Privately-owned drones rise in popularity, as FAA navigates potential risks

Drones is a loaded word that has been flying off politicians’ tongues for years now. But to be clear: this story is not about the unmanned military aircraft used to strike foreign targets.

This is a story about small, privately-owned drones, equipped with cameras and technology that can, and will, change the way we live our lives.

Each month at a rural airport near Washington D.C., Tim Reuter organizes one of several nationwide groups of hobbyists and hopeful entrepreneurs dedicated to expanding drone use.

“We really believe the sky is the limit with this technology, and we really want to incentivize people to start thinking about how to apply this to real world problems using low cost drones that an individual or a community could conceivably own,” said Reuter.

Unmanned, camera-toting drones can go where many aircraft and helicopters can’t, more safely and much, much more cheaply.

For example, a drone that costs a few hundred dollars can be used to monitor wildlife reserves and assess damage from dangerous natural disasters.

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Eclipse founder back, but at different aviation startup

RABURN 10-15-13Vern Raburn, the founder and former CEO of Eclipse Aviation Corp., is at the helm of another New Mexico aviation-pioneering startup.

Titan Aerospace, a small company that’s building a new solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle in Moriarty, hopes to get a very high-profile boost from its new chairman and CEO.

Eclipse pioneered creation of the world’s first “very light jet” before the company went bankrupt in 2009. Eclipse was later revived by new owners, who bought the company out of bankruptcy, relaunched it as Eclipse Aerospace, and now continue to build jets in Albuquerque.

But Raburn retains international notoriety for having raised more than $1 billion to build the original Eclipse 500 jet, helping to launch an entirely new very-light-jet segment in the aviation industry.

Raburn has maintained a low profile since he left Eclipse. But he said he joined Titan because it offers another chance to pioneer new technology developments in the aviation and satellite industries.

“Startups, technology and aviation — that’s what I’ve spent most of my career doing,” Raburn told the Journal. “I’ve been there, seen it, done it. It’s something I enjoy.”

Titan, which formed in 2012, is building a solar-powered UAV that can remain aloft for up to five years while providing satellite services for users from an altitude of just 65,000 feet. That’s higher than planes normally fly and much lower than where satellites generally operate.

The company calls them commercial atmospheric satellites, or “atmosats,” which could greatly lower the cost of launching and accessing satellite services.

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Watchkeeper UAS Receives Key Certification

The Watchkeeper unmanned air system (UAS) has received what is effectively its type certification approval from Britain’s Military Aviation Authority, some three years after the vehicle was scheduled to enter service.

The Thales UK tactical UAS has been awarded a Statement of Type Design Assurance (STDA) from the Military Aviation Authority clearing the British Army to undertake military flying in the appropriate airspace.

The STDA was created by the aviation authority for air platforms already in their development phase. Under the safety agencies rules, only aircraft projects initiated after the aviation authority was formed qualify for a type certificate.

Operational deployment of the Elbit Systems Hermes 450-based machine remains dependent on a release to service certificate. That’s expected by early 2014 as the British military puts the finishing touches to Watchkeeper’s associated lines of development such as training and infrastructure.

In a statement, Thales said the “STDA provided assurance that the Watchkeeper air vehicle and software has reached an acceptable level for design safety and integrity to meet the current stage of the systems development.”

It’s the first British type approval for an unmanned system since the aviation authority was formed in 2010 in the wake of a crash of a Royal Air Force Nimrod, which killed 14 people.

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KACST produces three types of drones

1381414405619825700.jpgKing Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) recently produced three types of drones (pilotless planes), the first of their kind in the Kingdom, announced Khalid bin Abdullah Al-Husan, superviser of the National Center for Aviation Technology (NCAT) at KACST.

The air drones, code-named Saqr 2, 3 and 4, are made of carbon and fiberglass and are characterized as light and durable to evade detection of radar and reconnaissance equipment, he explained.

The drones can be programmed from a ground-based control room, he added.

The newly created devices contain automatic control units, as well as logarithms programs, which can deal with and adapt to different wind speeds and temperatures, engine combustion, emergency landing or climb, or deviation from flight path, Al-Husan said.

The drones also contain communication devices and an operation room, where images and videos can be directly passed on to the control room, he noted.

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Drone Pilot Fights for Right to Profit in the Unmanned Skies

On June 30, 1956, two airliners flying over the Grand Canyon collided. All 128 passengers and crew aboard the planes perished. It was the first U.S. air disaster with more than 100 fatalities. The accident made clear that the nation’s burgeoning air-travel industry needed better safety oversight. Citing the “tragic losses of human life,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation creating the Federal Aviation Administration in 1958.

Six decades and a zillion regulations later, the agency that supervises everything from air-worthiness to passenger gadget use has taken legal action for the first time against an on-ground pilot — an operator of a styrofoam, 4.5-pound Ritewing Zephyr-powered glider. The $10,000 levy (.pdf) invokes the same code section that governs the conduct of actual airline-passenger pilots, charging modelerRaphael Pirker with illegally operating a drone for commercial purposes and flying it “in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.”

Pirker is fighting the citation (.pdf) before the National Transportation Safety Board, challenging the FAA’s assertion that it has the power to supervise the use of unmanned drones. If Pirker prevails, the FAA’s 2007 ban on the commercial use of unmanned drones — a thriving overseas business — may be nullified.

Pirker’s legal battle throws a spotlight on a commercial drone scene in the United States operating in a grey area. The FAA has issued dozens of cease-and-desist letters to operators of commercial model aircraft, forcing some companies to shut down. Others, however, are performing their aerial filming and crop and real estate surveying businesses underground — or sometimes right in the open.

The agency is working on a set of regulations for the budding industry, but those rules won’t be unveiled until as early as 2015. Meanwhile, uncertainty reigns.

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