Up and Soaring – UAS

Calif. Guard Deploys Predator to Support Firefighters 
The California Air National Guard used an unmanned MQ-1 Predator to improve the incident commander’s ability to monitor conditions on the ground in the massive wildfire devastating remote areas around Yosemite National Park, according to a Department of Defense report.

The Guard’s 163rd Reconnaissance Wing flew the aircraft in late August to collect real-time information about where the Rim Fire was moving, where it was controlled, and to identify safe routes of retreat for firefighters.

The aircraft’s pilots, located at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, Calif., remained in constant contact with Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers from takeoff to landing. Whenever possible, the Predator flew over unpopulated areas, and when it went outside of the restricted airspace for the fire, a manned plane escorted it.

Original Article

 

Border Patrol Loaning Predator Drones to Military, State, and Local Police

Think state and local law enforcement aren’t watching you with high-tech federally-owned drones? Think again.

In a new post, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)reports that Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, released an updated list of “times the agency has flown its Predator drones on behalf of other agencies — 500 flights in total over a three-year period.”

Some of the more interesting revelations contained in the report — obtained by EFF as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit — include the fact that CBP drones flew more than 100 missions on behalf of the Department of Justice.

As the EFF story indicates, this level of cooperation between CBP and the Department of Justice “is in direct contradiction to a recently released DOJ Office of Inspector General (OIG) Report (pdf) that stated DHS had flown its drones on only two occasions for DOJ law enforcement components.”

Although many of the agencies borrowing CBP drones were revealed in earlier lists, there are a few new entries: “Grand Forks SWAT, the North Dakota Narcotics Task Force, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Minnesota Drug Task Force, and several branches of the military.”

Read that again: “Several branches of the military” are flying drone missions above the United States. For what lawful purpose could the armed forces be conducting such operations domestically? Furthermore, the likelihood is high that such activities run afoul of the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the U.S. military from performing domestic law-enforcement duties.

In addition to the military and its fellow federal agencies, the CBP admitted that it is lending its drone fleet to “several county sheriff’s departments.” In the document provided to EFF, the CBP refused, however, to identify the names of the local law-enforcement departments borrowing these aircraft. CBP claims that to disclose the identity of the police departments or sheriff’s offices using its drones would “reveal that CBP is aware of the illegal activities taking place in a particular location.”

Seemingly, CBP believes (or claims to believe) that if it were to list these lenders, the criminals in those regions would be tipped off to the surveillance and would thus escape arrest.

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Meet NASA’s Futuristic Drone Research Lab

Last week, NASA and AUVSI invited a carefully selected, elite group of media (which obviously included IEEE Spectrum) to take a tour of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems programs at NASA Dryden. The Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) is located approximately in the middle of nowhere, inside Edwards Air Force Base on a huge dry lake bed out in the Mojave desert. The remoteness of the area, plus the availability of over 100 square kilometers of empty flat lake bed to land on if necessary, makes Dryden a fantastic place to test out all kinds of futuristic and occasionally bizarre aircraft. And we got to meet a few of them.
Let’s start with Ikhana, Dryden’s Predator B UAV. You’re probably familiar with the Predator drone, but the Predator B is significantly larger and more powerful. The military’s version of this UAV is the MQ-9 Reaper, which is capable of carrying 15 times the payload at three times the speed of the Predator A, for up to 30 hours at a stretch. “Ikhana” is a Choctaw Native American word that means “intelligent, conscious, or aware,” and appropriately enough, Dryden uses Ikhana primarily for remote sensing and monitoring. The drone is often used to map wildfires, for example.

This is what flying Ikhana is like, almost. The setup above is a simulator, and includes features that you won’t find in an actual Predator control station, like a wide angle forward view. At Dryden, they experiment with things like this to see how valuable different cameras or data might be to remote pilots. In other words, they’re trying to figure out what displays a drone pilot needs to effectively operate in national airspace.

When flying Ikhana around Dryden, pilots get to use a very low-latency radio connection for direct control using a joystick, just like in a video game. Away from Dryden, Ikhana is communicated with over a satellite connection, and flies autonomously via waypoint control. It’s still possible to use a joystick to control the drone in an emergency, but the 1.5 second latency makes it “basically unflyable.” Pilots practice it anyway, though, just in case there’s an emergency and they need to land the drone by hand.

 

This particular aircraft was the very first Global Hawk ever made, and had its first flight back in 1998. It’s quite a performer, though, able to cruise at 65,000 feet with a range of about 11,000 nautical miles. Even while based out of Dryden, it has no problem heading into the Atlantic or the Caribbean for extended weather monitoring, coming back home up to 30 hours later.

With a wingspan of 116 feet (that’s longer than a basketball court), the Global Hawk has nearly the same wingspan as a Boeing 737, and it can haul 1,500 pounds of payload, including deployable sensors that it can drop into particularly bad weather. For the last month or so, NASA has been partnering with NOAA’s National Hurricane Center to forecast hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Drones used for some unusual and amazing tasks

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For better or worse, drone aircraft are coming to airspace near you.

Recent headlines highlighted some amazing and odd uses for unmanned aerial systems. Just this week the U.S. Air Force managed to fly an F-16Falcon fighter jet unmanned, essentially turning the sophisticated warplane into a drone.

NASA has for years used variants of the military’s Predator drone for scientific research. The U.S. Department of Defense also authorized the California National Guard’s use of a Predator for monitoring efforts around the Rim Fire in August.

On the bizarre side are stories about drones delivering tacos or burritos, or even following children as they walk to school.

Unmanned aircraft, especially those capable of hovering in place or carrying payloads, catch attention. Brook Briggs with Sandy-based Saxton Horne Communications anticipates marketers putting that to use in advertising.

“They’ve been doing a lot more of them in Europe, I think, than they have in the U.S. but it’s starting to catch on here,” he said.

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Prepare for more drones, and less all-out war

Much of the current debate about drones (or unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs) is about whether their deployment to countries such as Pakistan and Yemen is legal or ethical. This debate is predominantly focused on armed drones and their use to carry out targeted and signature strikes against known or suspected terrorists and insurgents. To the extent that these debates engage with the effectiveness of drones, the predominant argument is that they are counter-productive because they infuriate local populations and governments, alienate potential allies, and serve as recruiting agents for insurgent movements and terrorist networks. The counter-argument is about drones being effective in limiting insurgent and terrorist capabilities, minimising civilian casualties and collateral damage, and reducing the risk to “our own” troops, while being more flexible and cost-effective to deploy.

Regardless of where one stands, drones are here to stay. As a technology, they have a vast number of applications beyond their use in combat operations. Their development is in part driven by commercial and civilian uses from crop-spraying to traffic management. Banning drone technology is thus neither possible nor desirable.

One of the questions that arises, then, is about the regulation of drone use. For commercial and civilian purposes, some regulatory frameworks already exist (such as in the areas of air traffic and telecommunications). Arguably, international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict also offer some initial guidelines for the military application of drones, although their interpretation by the US Department of Justice in awhite paper on the legality of lethal drone strikes against US citizens abroad isdisputed. While these debates go on, drone technology, military and otherwise, rapidly proliferates, including to non-state actors.

National and international regulation of drone warfare to one side, there are also a number of practical implications of the current, and future, technological advances. To date, the overwhelming majority of lethal drone strikes has been carried out by the United States in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. These are countries, in contrast to Iraq, Afghanistan, and arguably Libya, with which the United States and its allies are not at war.

In pursuing individuals as part of its War on Terror, the US and its allies are also beginning to extend their drones campaign to North Africa. Currently only using unarmed Predator drones for surveillance purposes, the initial threshold for the first targeted strike is likely to be high — such as terrorist mastermind Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the man behind the attack on the Tigantourine gas plant, in eastern Algeria.

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Predator drone now part of battle against Yosemite wildfire

Predator drone now part of battle against Yosemite wildfire
The Rim Fire burns through trees near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. Firefighters gained some ground Tuesday against the huge wildfire burning forest lands in the western Sierra Nevada, including parts of Yosemite National Park. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

GROVELAND, Calif. – As crews made significant progress building containment lines around a giant wildfire in and around Yosemite National Park, officials said they would maintain use of a National Guard Predator drone to give them early views of any new flare-ups across in the remote and rugged landscape.

The Rim Fire expanded to almost 800 square kilometres, but crews had a productive day Wednesday and containment increased to 30 per cent. Cooler temperatures and lighter winds aided the firefighters.

Increasingly confident fire officials said they expect to fully surround the blaze in three weeks, although it will burn for much longer than that.

“We continue to get line around this fire,” California fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. “It’s not nearly as active as it was last week.”

The MQ-1 unmanned aircraft deployed Wednesday was being remotely piloted hundreds of miles away, allowing ground commanders to keep an eye out for new fires they otherwise wouldn’t have immediately seen.

“The drone is providing data directly back to the incident commander, allowing him to make quick decisions about which resources to deploy and where,” Berlant said.

Previously, officials relied on helicopters that needed to refuel every two hours.

While unmanned aircraft have mapped past fires, use of the Predator will be the longest sustained mission by a drone in California to broadcast information to firefighters in real time.

The plane, the size of a small Cessna, will remain over the burn zone for up to 22 hours at a time, allowing fire commanders to monitor fire activity, determine the fire’s direction of movement, the extent of containment and confirm new fires ignited by lightning or flying embers.

The drone is being flown by the 163rd Wing of the California National Guard at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside and is operating from Victorville Airport, both in Southern California. It generally flew over unpopulated areas on its 480-kilometre flight to the Rim Fire. Outside the fire area, it will be escorted by a manned aircraft.

Officials were careful to point out the images are being used only to aid in the effort to contain the fire.

In 2009 a NASA Predator equipped with an infrared imaging sensor helped the U.S. Forest Service assess damage from a fire in Angeles National Forest. In 2008, a drone capable of detecting hot spots helped firefighters assess movement of a series of wildfires stretching from Southern California’s Lake Arrowhead to San Diego.

The Rim Fire started Aug. 17 and quickly exploded in size, becoming one of the 10 largest California wildfires on record. Its progression slowed earlier this week when it moved from parts of the forest with thick underbrush that had not burned in nearly a century to areas that had seen fire in the past two decades.

But it will burn for months, possibly until California’s dry season ends this fall.

“My prediction is it will burn until we see rain,” said Hugh Safford, a regional ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

CAE Lands Drone Training Contract

Reaper Aircraft Flies Without Pilot From Creech AF

 Airmen operate an MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. (Getty Images)

CAE has been awarded a contract to provide training for US Air Force unmanned aerial systems.

The contract, worth $100 million over a five-year stretch, provides instructors, live training and coursework for pilots of the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, both designed by General Atomics.

For the Quebec-based CAE, the contract is a return to its roots. The company won its first five-year contract for this training in 1998 and held on to it in during a recompete in 2003. But in 2008, the Air Force limited competition to small businesses only, knocking CAE out of the running. After opening it to all companies this year, the service announced that CAE beat out five other companies in a Tuesday contract announcement.

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