Archive for December, 2017

The UAS Hokie Pokie

Friday, December 15th, 2017

Per the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), recreational drones had to be registered, then they didn’t, and now they do again. The President recently signed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018 that requires recreational drones to be registered for civilian and hobbyist use. In a kind of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) hokie pokie, the FAA’s original registration requirement that was struck down earlier this year has been restored. All drones between ½ pound and 55 pounds must again be registered with the FAA. Owners again need to provide their name, physical address, and email address for the FAA drone database. The noncommercial drone registration fee is five  dollars. The drone owner receives a registration number that must be displayed on the drone during flight. The best site for knowing the rules for hobbyists is the FAA’s knowbeforeyoufly.org

Intel Falcon 8+

The Intel(R) Falcon(TM) 8+ System is an professional drone with cockpit controller. (Image: Intel.com)

Sure, the technology that has enabled drones saves a lot of money for applications like inspections on oil rigs, construction sites, and in  agriculture. The commercial drone applications that used to require helicopters with trained pilots can be undertaken by drone pilots on the ground. But registering an 8-ounce UAS? In spite of the seeming silliness of having to register an 8-ounce drone, this actually might be a good thing because of the large number of drones in civilian hands that end up interfering with firefighting planes, delaying flights at an airport, and causing collisions for Army helicopters. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a civilian-operated DJI Phantom Four drone collided with a U.S. Army helicopter at 300 feet because the operator was flying the drone out of sight and did not know the air regulations. The operator didn’t even know that the drone collided with a helicopter until the NTSB informed him. According to the NTSB press release, the helicopter landed safely, but “a 1 1/2 – inch dent was found on the leading edge of one of the helicopter’s four main rotor blades and parts of the drone were found lodged in the helicopter’s engine oil cooler fan.” The FAA wants drone operators to know the regulations and safe operating procedures, even if they only intend to fly their 8-ounce drone in their backyard.

Unmanned aircraft, even the small ones, are a serious problem when they’re flown by people who have no regard for their surroundings. In Canada, a commercial flight got hit by a drone on October 12, 2017. Violating the air regulations in Canada can cost an irresponsible drone flight operator up to $25,000 in fines. This also makes sense, considering the idiocy of some drone operators, which include guns mounted on drones and drones mounted with flamethrowers used to cook turkeys. Technology has enabled drones with a large number of sensors, low-cost CPUs and power efficient electronics, batteries, and motors such that the cost of a drone is quite affordable. This is another case of technology growing faster than laws and regulations. Drones can cause more damage than bird strikes. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed a plane on the Hudson River in 2009 after a bird strike destroyed both engines. Granted, two geese caused the rare event, but bird strikes are a real problem. Problems with drones will increase if people are not incentivized to fly responsibly, and the FAA regulation is a start. Granted, it does seem ridiculous that little 8-year-old Timmy’s Christmas present cannot be flown until it’s been registered with the FAA, but drones can indeed cause problems for others. Little Timmy will likely lose his drone over the rooftops or get it enmeshed in his sister’s hair. Some drones cost as much as a laptop or tablet. Imagine your tablet flying out of sight and beyond the signal of your controller. According to the New York Times, over 8,000 lost drones were reported lost last Christmas just on Nextdoor, a popular  app for communicating directly with one’s neighborhood. Perhaps it’s best to leave drones over $20 or 8 ounces to the professionals.