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Guest Editorial: More on Drones

By Ray Manuel

Edited By Ed Downs

In Flight USA got lucky. Interest in flying safety comes from all quadrants. For our October commentary, a perspective is offered from a pilot who flies everything from classic racing planes to the most advanced attack jets, but he is not a licensed pilot! The world of radio control (RC) model flying is as diverse as manned aircraft, and like those of us who fly big planes, RC modelers share the same airspace we fly in and have maintained a safety record that us big guys should envy.   

Modelers are, for the first time, facing a raft of regulations being proposed by the FAA (and demanded by Congress) to keep our airspace safe for joint use by manned and unmanned aircraft. RC flyers have long abided by guidelines fostered by both local clubs and national organizations and have never been a part of the emerging “drone problem.” This writer met Ray Manuel through the Hiller Museum of Aviation as Ray’s airshow display team performed at a recent Museum event.  Ray currently has more than 20 RC planes, most of which are powered with high tech electric fans that duplicate the spectacular performance of their real counterparts, such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F9F Panther, Mig-15, and F/A-18 Super Hornet, just to name a few. While the jets are neat, his present favorite is a Gee Bee Model Y. Ray is a flight instructor at his local flying field, and recently entered the airshow arena, with spectacular RC model demonstrations.

As a longtime fan of model airplane flying (I owned a hobby shop), this writer explored what is going on in the RC flying world, as rules, which could affect both general aviation and models, are tossed around by the FAA and various groups studying the fast growing market of “drones,” Ray agreed to attend the recently held 2015 Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management Convention, held at NASA’s Ames research Center and give our readers a first hand report as to what is going on in “drone world.” Take a look at the following contribution and be informed as to the scope of this new technology that we generically call “drones.” For more about Ray and his passion, visit or

NASA 2015 Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management Convention

By Ray Manuel 

There has yet to be a single day where the word “drone” is not used in a news story describing some act of stupidity. Hovering over a homeowner’s property, invading their privacy, and putting their family at risk of it falling out of the sky are just a few of the headlines that make the news. Why? Because it was shot down by a shotgun… or better yet, an amateur brings their newly acquired 3D Robotics Iris+ to the ball game without proper flight training and promptly crashes it into the grandstands.

Recent sightings of drones by airline pilots on final approach do not help the reputation of this new industry. After hearing any one of the news stories about drones, how could you not despise them? However the public is being duped into thinking negatively about platforms that are a huge positive contribution to society when properly used. Not to mention giving them the wrong name. In aviation, the acronym UAV has been used for decades. It stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and is used to describe a wide variety of craft. They can be helicopters, fixed wing propeller driven, fixed wing jet powered, fixed wing gliders, and most recently multirotors. They are all unmanned, and some can fly autonomously in all aspects of flight without any human intervention. Most are used for data collection, land surveys, reconnaissance, and a handful of military drones are used to aid combat troops as well as border patrol. 

All of these craft are flown in regulated airspace, and some are capable of reaching altitudes of well over 60,000 feet. As a result, the average everyday person never sees them nor do they think about the dangers that there may be with them flying overhead. Maybe that is why the recent introduction of multirotors has sparked such a firestorm of concern about safety. The cliché “out of sight out of mind” fits pretty well in this instance. Multirotors fly low, make noise, and are visible. People are more aware of them, which brings up issues that otherwise wouldn’t be issues. What is going to be done to regulate the use of these new machines?

Over the last few years, NASA has been working on a plan to manage these aircraft at lower altitudes. They named it the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM). Their main focus was coming up with a way to regulate the airspace below 500 feet, much like what is already in place for general and commercial aviation. They are still in the beginning phases and are collaborating closely with the FAA to come up with a UTM prototype by the year 2019. This summer marked the very first time that there was an actual convention to go over these ideas.

On July 28th through 30th of 2015, The NASA Ames UTM: The Next Era of Aviation Convention took place with some very positive results. This was the first of its kind and surprisingly informative. Being an avid RC model enthusiast for the last 30 years has given this writer a pretty good heads up on new technology as it is introduced. However, this was a new groundbreaking convention, and I felt very privileged to attend! I also feel compelled to share my account of what was presented at this event from an RC modeler’s perspective and also that of someone who is aware of the concerns that general aviation and commercial aviation may have.There were several important keynote addresses throughout the event, but only a few stood out with some engaging topics. Let’s start off with Ed Bolton Jr., FAA Assistant Administrator for NextGen Technology. As most of you know, the FAA is great about patting themselves on the back, and this was no different. Mr. Bolton explained to the audience how the FAA has been doing a fine job of meeting the time constraints that Congress has put on them to implement ways to manage the use of UAVs at lower altitudes. According to him, the FAA has been right on track with what has been put before them. Little does he know that in reality they are actually behind and still playing catch up.

There have been several attempts to throw together last-minute regulations for the commercial use of UAVs that have not fared very well with the public. Either way, it was refreshing to hear that the FAA is actually realizing that the use of UAVs is a legitimate way of conducting business, doing research or as a hobby. From what I could tell, he was very open to hearing about the innovative technology being used to monitor these craft, which is exactly what is needed.

Prior to this event, I had never heard of the next Keynote speaker and apparently I was the only one in the room who had not heard of him. Everyone at NASA knows Dr. Primal Kopadekar as “PK.” He is the Safe Autonomous System Operations Project Manager and UTM Principal Investigator. According to him, there are three UTM Functions, and they are as follows.


Airspace Operations and Management

• All UAS traffic will be at or below 500ft

• Airspace will be based on Geographical needs and applications

• There will be rules for the airspace that are performance based

• Geofencing will be utilized

Wind and Weather Integration

• Actual and Predicted weather conditions

• Congestion Management when the need arises

• Establishing corridors, altitudes, and direction

Separation Management

• Airspace Reservation (flight planning)

• (Manned Aircraft to Aircraft separation) and (Manned Aircraft to UAS Separation)

• Tracking via ADS-B, cellphone towers and Satellite based systems

• Contingency Management in case of Large scale GPS or Cellphone tower outage

• Preparations for 9/11 type events or terror attacks

PK also explained that in August they would begin the first UTM builds, which will cover the development, simulation, testing, and safety analysis. NASA will continue to work with the industry, academic, and government groups to refine operational requirements, system architecture, prototypes, and conduct test to verify that the airspace integration is a proven method of management. There were three other steps for builds that would begin in October 2016 for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLS), January 2018 for more automated Beyond Visual Line of Sight, and in March 2019 for autonomous operation in Urban/Higher Density Areas.

He also mentioned that we are at the very beginning of this sort of technology, and it is a very exciting time to be involved with all of this! This step-by-step process is, in a way, similar to how things were for the Wright Brothers but on a slightly different scale. Many aspects of aviation can be augmented with the use of UAS, and they already have in a lot of commercial applications. The doors are wide open for this type of technology with not even the sky being the limit.

One of the most anticipated Keynote Speakers was Gur Kimchi, Amazon Prime Air Vice President and Co-Founder. He explained that his purpose for attending the UTM was to explain Amazon’s Approach, which focuses on innovation and safety. They relate the many uses for UAS to 1,000 flowers blooming, using the following as examples: Photography, videography, inspection, mapping, surveying, sports, precision farming, search and rescue, air quality monitoring, humanitarian aid, logistics, emergency support, and scientific research. Like PK, they envision the airspace 500ft and below for operation but with a slightly different approach. There would be three different zones for travel. From 0-200 feet would be low speed localized traffic, 201-400 feet would be for High Speed Transit and 401-500 feet would be designated a No Fly Zone to keep even more separation between General or Commercial Aviation.

They aim to have UAS that are capable of being linked to GPS, Cellphone towers, and or Internet connectivity for navigation. This navigation system would be set up in a way that would be collaborative between an operator and the UAV or Non Collaborative, using sensors and other automation for navigating around obstacles if necessary. However, they are still not able to do much more than talk about what it is that they are planning to do. There are no products on the market that can do what it is they envision. This means that there will need to be a lot more time spent on developing UAVs for their missions. Amazon will continue to reach out to the public for help with furthering their endeavors.

There were several Panel Discussions that focused on different aspects of UAS and UAVs. The most important was in regards to privacy and what legislation is being put into effect to keep people’s rights from being violated. The panel included Bill English of the NTSB, Capt. Thomas Madigan from the OHSES of Alameda County, Calif., Lisa Ellman of Hogan Lovells Partners, and Brad Owen, Sr. Vice President of United States Aircraft Insurance Group. Basically, the whole spectrum was covered from Attorney to Law Enforcement. Privacy seems to be on most people’s minds with all of the media attention being focused on Drones operating near houses, sports stadiums, and natural disasters.

The recent fires in Southern California were discussed since there was Multirotors operating in areas that prevented fire crews from getting air support. In instances such as that, there are grounds for fines and disciplinary actions since there are strict rules (TFRs) on flying aircraft near natural disasters. Full-on investigations will be put into effect and the NTSB and FAA will get involved. However, the laws about private property are still much harder to enforce. There are far too many gray areas that leave it open to interpretation. Hovering over someone’s property is not breaking any law since the airspace above the property is not owned. Now, if there is a craft hovering outside of a window with a camera facing in, there may be more of an issue there, but even that isn’t a cut and dry issue either. The laws need to be revised in order to make them clearer in relation to UAVs and Multirotors now that they are becoming more involved in our way of life.

So what does all of this mean for General and Commercial Aviation? Will there be UAVs in your airspace? Will there be a need to worry about drone strikes as well as laser pointers and bird strikes? At this point, probably not, but “heads up” is always a good policy. Yes, there are still some rogue multirotor operators that are not following the rules, making it hard on the good guys. But in all honesty, there still aren’t any substantiated reports of them interfering with full-scale aircraft.

Yes, there are reports, but most of them are being debunked or are not being reported properly. NASA, AUVSI, and The FAA are doing their part to get something in place. It is at least 10 years away from actually being put into place though. So while this UTM was a great idea and a showcase of what is being done to make low level UAS a reality, we are a long way from actually seeing it come to fruition. In the meantime, visit your local model airplane airport and take a look at how our community practices safety. But be warned, a local instructor may offer you the “stick,” and casual interest can turn into a passion… but it is a great one!







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Reader Comments (1)

thank you for this article ))

November 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterArchie

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